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My bad air day: Utah doc: More illness, depression in inversions
Health » Family physician wonders how living in the Salt Lake Valley impacts his patients’ health.

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I love the euphemism, "inversion." It sounds so benign.

When I first saw it, I called it smog. I guess that’s because I’m from California, where we tell when the emperor is buck naked.

At a glance

About this series

This is part of an occasional series of stories examining Utah’s air quality through the monitoring station collecting data at Hawthorne Elementary School, at 1675 South 600 East Salt Lake City, and the surrounding community.

The air at Hawthorne Elementary is much the same as the rest of Utah’s urban valleys — but the school is the focus of some of the most crucial air monitoring research in the state. Read a previous story about that monitoring here.

Share the story of your bad air day

How does poor air quality affect you? The Salt Lake Tribune and KUED Channel 7 want to hear your bad-air-day stories — whether written or video-recorded.

Send stories to utairquality@sltrib.com with “My Bad Air Day” in the subject line, or share them at facebook.com/saltlaketribune.

Share video stories on Tout at tout.com/sltrib or at #mybadairday on Instagram. The Tribune and KUED will share your stories as part of our ongoing air-quality coverage.

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For me, winter means months of wheezing, watering, itchy eyes, colds that go into pneumonia, increased asthma and just general malaise.

Other than that, I feel wonderful.

‘We will all die sooner’

Jean Lown, Logan

Having lived in Cache Valley for 30 years and been involved in trying to influence the Cache County Council and other local politicians to address the air pollution, I concluded that there is no chance of improvement in the foreseeable future.

For about a decade I’ve attended forums to learn about the local air pollution problem and potential solutions. I’ve written letters to the editor, attended county council meetings, written to and talked with council members and all I see is a red-neck anti-government attitude reflecting the local electorate. Those who are most against the federal government, the nasty EPA and its onerous regulations will easily be re-elected by thoughtless voters who simply check the one "R" box for a straight ticket.

I initiated and managed a "Clear the Air" contest for Utah State University students in January-February 2013 and raised funds for cash prizes for the best ideas and posters designed to educate students and the public about the problem and how to reduce the pollution. I contacted C. Arden Pope at BYU to get his permission to name the contest after him, with the hopes that the local populace would take a more open-minded view of the air pollution problem if they knew a Brigham Young University professor was a world-renowned researcher on Utah’s toxic problem. Pope graciously agreed and awarded the prizes at the March seminar.

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I’m annoyed with the Utah Division of Air Quality that publicizes that our toxic air is only bad for certain vulnerable groups. NO level of PM2.5 is safe and the World Health Organization sets the exposure limit at 25 micrograms per cubic centimeter, substantially below the EPA limit. It is simply false to tell the public that moderate to high levels of PM2.5 are only a concern for "sensitive groups."

Although ridership on Cache Valley’s free (sales tax supported) bus system rises slightly during the inversions, the parking lots at USU are just as full on red air days as any other. The number of huge diesel pickup trucks, big contributors to the problem, has exploded over the past decade. During the worst inversions when we have the most toxic air in the nation (probably second only to Beijing in the world), the lines at the bank and fast food drive-thrus are long, vehicles are idling in front of stores all around town and even in front of the "Blue Goes Green, No Idling Zone" signs on the USU campus, students sit in their T-shirts and shorts idling their vehicles. Today while I washed my car the huge diesel pickup in the next bay idled the entire time the owner was washing it.

For the past 30 years I’ve chosen to live within walking/biking distance of my work and rarely drive to campus. In the fall of 2012 we bought solar panels and a plug-in Prius (to replace our "regular" Prius vehicle). We’ve spoken out and invested in clean technology.

With spineless politicians, clueless public and no hope of improvement in sight I’m taking early phased retirement from USU to be able to escape the toxic winter air. I’m teaching fall semester but not spring. This year we are leaving Logan for St. George in January and February, where I can continue my research and writing but breathe much cleaner air. I realize I am fortunate to be able to escape the winter inversions. I only wish that in a state that claims to value its children that parents and grandparents would take their responsibility to clean up the air for their loved ones. It’s so easy to claim that Utah is family friendly but I sure would not move here with young children knowing what I do about the toxic air.

The Cache Chamber of Commerce plans to spend half a million dollars to encourage more people to move to the valley. With 30,000 more residents projected by the next census, with an additional 10,000 or so vehicles, the consequences for air quality are truly frightening.

Contrary to what the Cache County Council would like residents to believe, our air quality problems are unhealthful for everyone, not just the elderly, children, and asthmatics. BYU’s Pope is internationally known for his research linking PM 2.5 pollution to cardiopulmonary health. We will all die sooner because of the toxic air we breathe during winter inversions. In the meantime we all pay more for the negative health effects. Pope’s research unequivocally links particulate pollution with respiratory illness in children and adults, cardiopulmonary mortality in adults, "respiratory hospitalizations, lung function and respiratory symptoms, school absences, and mortality."

Read a summary of the health effects of PM 2.5 by Pope and Douglas Dockery of the Harvard School of Public Health. Pope and Dockery report "health effects at unexpectedly low concentrations of ambient PM." It’s not just the "red" air days that are bad for anyone who breathes. Further, the effects are cumulative. County Executive Lynn Lemon has lost all credibility when he claims that our air in only unhealthy for a few days a year. During the winter of 2012-2013 the PM2.5 was off the charts (literally).

Utahns who ignore the problem and continue to re-elect the same old reactionary politicians deserve what they get. Too bad for their children and grandchildren and other people who are trying to make a difference. I’m fortunate to be able to escape in the winter. I realize it is not the solution. The solution is to kick out almost all the current crop of politicians and elect some enlightened, educated replacements. I won’t hold my breath; I’ll be dead long before that happens. In the meantime, it’s long past time for the business and education leaders to recognize that the toxic air repels potential employees from out of state. Well-educated young friends of ours with a year-old son recently left for a job in New Zealand. It’s the best educated who will leave the state. The most recent search committee I served on at USU, where candidates visited during inversions, failed because candidates refused to move here with their young children.

‘The black oily residue is on everything’

Kim Pugmire, North Salt Lake

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Air-quality town hall Wednesday

The Tribune’s Jennifer Napier-Pearce will moderate a town-hall discussion on Utah’s air quality challenges with a panel of experts at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 29, at the Salt Lake City Main Library, 210 E. 400 South.

The discussion will be broadcast live on KCPW 88.3/105.3 FM and at sltrib.com. You can submit questions in advance by sending an email to utairquality@sltrib.com.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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