As a public school teacher and as a second-year graduate student in a master of public health program, I find it alarming that legislative authorities have pushed aside the constituents they serve by having blatant disregard to the environmental health impacts that affect the well-being of our entire Utah population.

I am deeply concerned with the inadequate planning that has taken place surrounding the future inland port, an economic transport hub that Salt Lake City plans to build in the northwest quadrant of the Salt Lake Valley. This area borders West Valley City and Magna, the cities where I teach young school children.

There are contradicting statements published in The Salt Lake Tribune where Derek Miller, chairman of the Utah Inland Port Authority board, changes positions on public transparency concerning the development of the port. He was quoted July 30 saying that “[Residents’] voices aren’t just important, they’re critical to make sure this is done right.” But then weeks later, in an August 29 article, Miller and his board members vote to keep committee meetings private.

How is it that this project “will be done right” when doors are shut to the very people that it’s meant to serve? This project has been labeled “the largest economic development project in state history” touting a projected state annual job growth of 2.3 percent. I’m afraid that this economic benefit will be at the irreversible and lethal expense of our health and environment. It wouldn’t be then a gain, but rather a hefty economic loss due to substantial medical expenses for Utah’s workforce and environmental clean-up costs if contamination occurs. Utahns need to remember also that the pollution projected to occur will be magnified exponentially considering that the new state prison will be built adjacent to the inland port.

I have been a resident of Utah for 17 years. This summer was the first time I’ve had a sinus infection and the first time my 5-year-old niece couldn’t play outside because the air quality was so hazardous to her health that the consequences of being outside would have aggravated her existing asthma. It is imperative that this inland port board plans with a long-term forward-thinking mindset considering all the factors at stake with the most critical of all: the health of our family. I believe that true wealth and prosperity of our state lies in the health of our community members.

Will Utah be deemed a wealthy state 10 or 50 years down the road when our children and grandparents are hospitalized or bedridden suffering from chronic respiratory, heart or lung diseases all of which originated from living in a toxic environment? I fear that this may be our fate if leaders don’t plan carefully and responsibly now with an environmental health-conscious mind.

We should be integrating renewable energy into planning and using no emission electric vehicles in developing this inland port. How about using electric freight switches and solar panels also? These are just a few ideas to start with in order to reduce pollution and carbon emissions for cleaner air.

We must remember that our health is our wealth. I propose that the Utah Inland Port Authority have environmental health science experts and engineers used in all areas in developing the inland port. Doing so would ensure safeguarding our most precious natural resources of air, water and land for the longevity of our beloved Utah residents.

Candice Sandness, Taylorsville, teaches in the Granite School District and is a second-year graduate student studying public health at Westminster College.