Jan Kennington: Do you know the facts about air pollution in Utah?

Bad air shortens our lives and costs the local economy $1.9 billion a year.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Poor air quality obscures the Oquirrh Mountains and downtown Salt Lake City, as seen from the University of Utah on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.

As a retired nurse practitioner, I know that clean air is important for all of us. It is especially important for me because I have a medical condition that is aggravated when Salt Lake City has unhealthy (orange or red) air quality days.

So over the past two months I collected signatures for Becky Edward’s U.S. Senate campaign as clean air is one of her top three priorities. I am also volunteering with Clean The Darn Air (DarnAir.org), a grassroots group working on a clean-air-and-climate ballot measure effort here in Utah for 2024.

Here are some facts about the detrimental effects of air pollution according to a peer-reviewed paper, co-authored by scientists at Brigham Young University, the University of Utah and Utah State University, that was published in the journal Atmosphere in October 2020.

The paper estimates that air pollution in Utah causes about 2,500 to 8,000 premature deaths each year, decreasing our life expectancy by about two years. This affects all Utahns, not just the “sensitive” groups. Air pollution affects health by causing inflammation in the body. It is estimated that air pollution contributes to one in six deaths around the world.

The paper’s estimates also “reflect the robust evidence that exposure to air pollution affects all systems in the human body, including prenatal development, neurological function, cardiovascular health, respiratory function, mental health, and geriatric health.”

The long list of associated acute and chronic health conditions includes lung diseases such as COPD; asthma; heart diseases such as atherosclerosis, heart attacks; infertility in both women and men along with miscarriages and stillbirths in women; psychological symptoms such as depression, anxiety and suicide; metabolic conditions such as diabetes; cancers such as lung, breast, liver and pancreatic cancer; neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis; brain conditions such as memory issues and Alzheimer’s disease; and learning disorders such as ADHD and schizophrenia.

Lastly, the paper found that air pollution is expensive, costing Utah around $1.9 billion annually.

In Utah, air pollution has improved but we still live in an environment where air pollution gets trapped due to inversions. According to the Utah Division of Air Quality, emergency room visits increase across the Wasatch Front during heavy pollution.

A study completed by researchers at the University of Utah in 2018 noted that just a short-term exposure to air pollution for pregnant women can increase the risk of a miscarriage by 16%.

Everyone is at risk from the detrimental effects of air pollution, but fetuses, infants and children are the most at risk due to their developing heart, respiratory, and nervous systems. A Huntsman Cancer Institute study in 2019 found that poor air quality days significantly increased the risk of hospitalizations for respiratory issues in young survivors of cancer.

The Clean The Darn Air effort aims to improve Utah’s air quality by putting $100 million a year into clean air programs, including incentives for homeowners to buy electric lawn and garden equipment and for school districts to buy electric school buses. The proposal would also eliminate the unfair state sales tax on groceries. To pay for it all there’s a modest carbon tax on the fossil fuels that contribute to local air pollution and global climate change.

Please join me in supporting Becky Edwards and the Clean The Darn Air effort. Improving Utah’s air quality could save your life, or the life of someone you love.

Jan Kennington

Jan Kennington is a retired nurse practitioner who lives with her husband in Cottonwood Heights.