SALT LAKE CITY — A new broad-based analysis of the air pollution problem along the Wasatch Front finds that the most cost-effective way to cut down on harmful particulates in the air is by refraining from lighting the fireplace or wood-burning stove.
"After our research, it seems that there should be more done on burning wood in the fireplace and how that is easily that most preventative step we can take to reduce our contribution to the pollution problem," said Shawn Teigen, a research analyst with the Utah Foundation.
The foundation's report, The Air That We Breathe, was released Thursday, detailing the ascension of Utah's air pollution to a problem of wide prominence and forecasting its continued role as a public policy challenge for the state's elected officials.
Teigen spent the past year as part of the foundation's fact-gathering efforts to craft a comprehensive look at the cause of the air quality problems confronting metropolitan residents and what solutions may exist.
The research revealed some surprising conclusions about the air that at times spikes to among the dirtiest in the country, posing heightened health risks to asthma sufferers and leading to complications for respiratory or pulmonary-compromised populations.
Teigen said the big surprise to emerge in the study is the culpability of the innocuous fires that households burn for ambience, with research suggesting they may be responsible for as much as 10 percent of the airshed's fine particulate matter.
"If there is one thing to do to take care of the pollution problem, the biggest impact that any individual person can have is to not have a fire in their fireplace," he said. "You are doing less harm driving your car around for eight hours than if you are burning a fire in your home for an hour."
The foundation did not reach any policy conclusion as a result of the finding, though Teigen did note that there is legislation planned for the coming session that gives the Utah Division of Air Quality greater inspection capability for violators on high pollution days, as well as additional momentum from a variety of corners to give the program more regulatory teeth.
"If it is 10 percent of the problem, you can’t be a person who burns a fire and points the finger at the refineries or the miners at Kennecott," he said.
The report also noted:
• The seven top counties in the United States that would benefit from Tier 3 or enhanced automobile and fuel standards are all in Utah, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
• About 2.5 percent of Utah residents use public transportation to get to work. The highest transit use in the state is in Salt Lake County, at 4 percent.
• Nationwide, there are expected to be 200,000 zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2015, and eight states are part of a cooperative agreement to use state incentives to bolster that number. Utah is not one of them.
• There are about 300 to 400 overnight trucks in the Salt Lake Valley each night, contributing as much as 7 percent of the daily nitrogen oxide, a highly reactive gas produced during combustion and a precursor of fine particulate, or PM2.5 pollution.
Teigen said the foundation has stopped short of wholesale recommendations at this point, but its board of directors may issue a list of policy positions for lawmakers and others to consider going forward.
The foundation's report was released the same day a public awareness campaign was announced called "Let's Clear the Air."
Envision Utah and UCAIR are coordinating the $500,000 effort, which will be through the end of winter on multiple outlets such as billboards, television commercials, radio spots, online advertisements and through most social media outlets.
An interactive survey is available online for users to test their “Clean Air IQ,” and links to air quality improvement resources are provided on the website.
Multiple clean air advocacy groups have also organized what they say is the largest clean air rally in the state's history slated for noon Saturday at the state Capitol.
The event will include speeches and live music. A free bus has been arranged by organizers to ferry attendees to and from the rally from the Salt Lake Central TRAX station.
Rally participants who have signed an online petition are urging Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah Legislature to take a number of actions to address the air pollution problem, including a moratorium on any new highways for 10 years, free transit at high pollution intervals, the closure of Stericycle, and no open or industrial or agricultural burning by ATK, metal recyclers or Hill Air Force Base.
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