I am a transplant to Salt Lake City. I grew up near Los Angeles, no stranger to air pollution, yet I have never experienced anything like the haze and foul-smelling air we are living in here.
My husband and I both received our medical degrees from UCLA and, after completing my training there in internal medicine, I was on the faculty for several years while my husband completed his doctorate. We relocated our family, including my parents and our two small children, to Salt Lake almost two years ago for my husband's residency.
We had heard people mention the "inversion" when we were looking to move here, but we were caught up in the excitement of all the state has to offer and didn't think much of it.
We have found Salt Lake City to be an amazing city, with open and friendly people, tons of activities for children and some of the best outdoor fun and sport anywhere. However, this winter has been an unpleasant shock as I watch the PM2.5 particulates (the worst type of air pollution) climb to unsafe levels daily and look out on the gray haze that envelops us.
The more I investigate, the worse the situation appears. This is a public health emergency, but we don't seem to be treating it as such.
Even on the local news a reporter doing a story on the inversion stated that "doctors don't think this will cause lasting health effects." This could not be further from the truth.
The American Lung Association gives Salt Lake City a rating of F for our spikes in particulate pollution. Breathing this type of pollution causes inflammation in the lining of your blood vessels, which in turn leads to a greater chance of blood clots, heart attacks, strokes and death. And the effects are not temporary.
This is not about "sick" people coughing a little more for a month in the winter. This affects every single person who inhales in this state every day. It is not an exaggeration to say that decades of exposure to this level of toxic air can shorten your life by years.
Air pollution has also been linked to miscarriages, birth defects, lower IQ, asthma and cancer. Does this sound like an emergency yet?
People argue against action with claims about economics, attracting business and cumbersome regulations, but we need to get our priorities straight. When you spend a lot of time around people who are ill, you quickly come to realize that our health is our highest priority.
People who are ill would give anything to not be ill. Imagine you are ill. Lung disease, heart disease, hormone problems, cancer. What would you give to be healthy again?
Would you demand of your elected representatives that they prioritize your health over the profits of industry? Would you sit in your car in a jacket instead of idling with the heat on? Would you pay a little more for your car so the emissions were lower? Would you give up that cozy but polluting fire in your fireplace? Would you add 20 minutes to your commute to take the train?
Now imagine your child is ill. What would you give up then?
It is time to stop being complacent. Perhaps it is because I did not grow up here, have not seen this wretchedness every year and gotten used to it. This city and state have so much to offer. I want to raise my children here, but won't risk their health to do so. What will it take to wake us up to this threat to our health and the health of our children?
Go outside. Take a deep breath of the soot.
As a physician, as a mother, as a citizen of this city, I've reached my limit, I'm ready to take action. Are you?
Call, write, email your legislators and the governor every day until they take action to protect us all.
Jennifer Kious is among the physicians who signed a recent letter from Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment to the governor urging action on air pollution.