Hold your breath • Meteorologists call it "haze" on the television weather forecasts and on newspaper weather maps. But that's a euphemism. The gunk that is clouding the air over the Salt Lake and Cache valleys is actually PM 2.5 pollution, made up of toxic soot from vehicle exhaust and other combustion and chemical pollutants. Wintertime high pressure systems create inversions and hold the stuff in the valleys, creating unhealthy conditions, especially for children, the elderly and people of all ages with any type of allergy or lung ailment that causes breathing problems. What can individuals do about it? Drive less, don't use wood-burning stoves or fireplaces, stay indoors, leave town. The Utah Climate Center has come up with a way to predict inversions that could be helpful, but state leaders should do more to limit pollution sources, including refining and mining.
Good and bad • Utah's high school graduation rate was better by 2 percentage points in 2012 than the previous year, and that must be recognized as a good thing. Even better is that students in almost all ethnic groups saw an improvement. But the overall rate of 78 percent for the Beehive State is far too low. Latino students, who make up the largest minority ethnic group, graduate at a rate of only 62 percent, and American Indian students at just 60 percent. Utah now ranks in the bottom half of states for high school graduation, and that is not a good place to be, especially when Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah business owners have a goal of two-thirds of all Utahns holding college degrees or training certificates by 2020.
A child's best friend • Dogs traditionally have been part of law enforcement, helping officers locate drugs, subdue suspects and aid search-and-rescue efforts. But at two Children's Justice Centers in Utah, trained canines have a much different job: comforting children who have been victims of abuse and neglect. Bruno, a 13-year-old lab mix, works in Tooele County, and Wink, a 2-year-old lab/golden retriever, comforts children in court and in therapy at the Uintah and Daggett County CJC. When children are being questioned about the bad things that have happened to them, the dogs provide a nonjudgmental, quiet, comforting presence. The Tooele center was the first of its kind in the nation to use service dogs to help child victims when the program was initiated four years ago. Utah's other 18 centers should try incorporating these calming animals into their work with fragile children who need a friend they can trust.