Thanks to Julie Mack and other members of the Utah County Clean Air Coalition, "PM10" is a household word in Utah County.
But the coalition is not deserving of recognition only for raising public awareness of air-quality problems. Credit is also due for its efforts to spur completion of the first comprehensive state implementation plan for control of fine particulate matter (PM10) in the nation.The coalition filed suits in February 1988 against the state and Environmental Protection Agency for not complying with a 1987 federal law requiring PM10 non-attainment areas to draft control plans within nine months. Utah had done little to draft such plans for its two PM10 non-attainment areas - Utah and Salt Lake counties.
And the coalition believed EPA wasn't pushing the state hard enough.
"The lawsuit elevated the interest in getting the SIP completed and providing the state with the technical assistance needed to get a fully approvable (plan)," said Lee Hanley, environmental engineer with EPA's Region 8 office in Denver.
"The Bureau of Air Quality wanted to do a lot of this, but it didn't have the funds," said Mack, co-founder of the coalition. It was also short on manpower and knowledge about how to do a plan, she said.
After the coalition filed the suits, the EPA provided Utah with $500,000 to speed development of a PM10 plan and allowed two staff members to devote full-time attention to the project. The coalition dropped its suit against the state once work on the plan began in earnest.
But the coalition did more than seek legal redress, Hanley said.
"They didn't just file a lawsuit," she said. "They wanted a solution for their area . . . In this particular case they worked very hard to come to an agreement on what that solution could be."
The coalition focused on educating the public about clean-air issues - through public meetings, symposiums and newsletters - and pushing for governmental involvement at the county and state level. Hanley said the coalition's actions "triggered" creation of Gov. Norm Bangerter's clean air commission.
"It (the coalition's efforts) certainly was a factor," said Curtis Garner, special assistant to Bangerter. "It was one manifestation of the growing concern of citizens statewide over the quality of the air."
Lawson LeGate, associate southwest representative for the Sierra Club, said the "spark" of concern over air quality "started in Utah Valley and it just spread from there."
The degree of involvement demonstrated by the coalition is lacking in other areas of the country such as Los Angeles, Hanley said.
"They really deserve a lot of congratulations," she said.
So what prompted Mack to become a clean air activist? "I looked out my window and the air was brown," she said. "I wondered what was in the air."
Mack was angered by "pat answers" from state officials and representatives of Geneva Steel to questions about emissions from the plant.
"I had to start digging, finding out for myself what they were shooting out of their stacks," Mack said. "It took me two months to find out what PM10 was."
Mack's group was first called Utah Valley Citizens for Clean Air. It was rechristened the Utah County Clean Air Coalition after it joined forces with half a dozen other community groups, including the Utah County chapters of the Sierra Club, American Lung Association, Audubon Society, Utah Valley Medical Association and Physicians for a Safe Environment.
The coalition also has 1,600 families as members, Mack said.
"We asked them (the public) to get into the process and they heeded the call," she said. "That's been very rewarding."
The coalitions's suit against EPA is still pending in Federal District Court in Salt Lake City - and will remain in that status until the Salt Lake County plan is finished, Mack said.
Mack is pleased that since her group's inception three years ago, Utah County residents have moved from skepticism to informed understanding of air quality problems.
"It is more acceptable to be environmentally active," Mack said.
With one victory behind it, the coalition is not about to let up; it has set its sights on carbon monoxide problems in Provo, water issues and solid and hazardous waste problems in the valley.