The management of Geneva Steel in Utah County has apparently observed, correctly, that some members of our community are not satisfied with the efforts that have been made to clean up Utah County's air.
We have had terrible air quality during the past month, and there are serious consequences for human health when pollution levels are as high as they are in Utah County.The reasons why many people are dissatisfied with air quality in Utah County include:
1. The levels of PM10 are among the highest in the nation. Fine particulates comprised of metals, carcinogens and other toxic substances pose a major health threat to all of us, but particularly children. It is intolerable to expose ourselves to that level of risk.
While it is true that a cleanup program for PM10 has been developed, the real key is whether industries in the county will comply completely with its provisions and whether it will be enforced vigorously by state officials.
People should celebrate when air quality improves; it is premature to do so now, while people suffer serious effects from dirty air.
2. Utah County needs a cleanup plan for carbon monoxide. According to the EPA, our levels of carbon monoxide are the fifth highest in the nation. We have been in violation of the national health standard for carbon monoxide for years but still lack a realistic plan to solve that problem, to reduce industrial and automobile pollution. We need to make sure that no new sources of carbon monoxide are permitted in the county unless they can be offset by reductions from other sources. This is true of the construction of a large parking lot as well as changes in a steel mill that result in increased carbon monoxide pollution.
3. Sources of pollution that are particularly dangerous and avoidable should be eliminated. One of the most pollutants of our air is coke oven emissions, comprised of benzene and other cancer-causing chemicals, that are released as part of the steelmaking process (coke ovens convert coal into coke that is then burned in furnaces to produce iron from iron ore).
The EPA estimated that the risk of cancer associated with the coke oven emissions in our county is close to one in one hundred; the Clean Air Act sets as a standard for emissions of hazardous pollutants a risk of no greater than one in one millions - a standard 10,000 times more protective than current levels in our county.
What is inexcusable is that this risk is avoidable. We can do here what has been done in Japan, Pennsylvania and other areas where steel is made: prohibit coking operations in urban areas. Coking operations should be moved to rural areas, close to the source of coal, away from mountain valleys where inversions trap pollutants.
4. The true costs of industrial, commercial and other economic activities need to be paid by those who benefit from them. The price charged for steel produced here and shipped to other countries must cover all the costs of doing business in our community, including the cost of not poisoning the air and water.
People in this community should not have to subsidize the customers of the steel mill in other countries. It is a gross violation of justice and fairness that the burdens of air pollution be borne by some people while corporate profits are enjoyed by others.
5. Economic growth and development should be encouraged that is compatible with public health and environmental quality. We should foster development by companies that can provide jobs and create benefits that do not also mean high levels of air pollution.
We need to find ways for all members of our community to find good jobs that are consistent with the constraints our environment places on us.
6. Public information and open debate are essential. People need to know what health risks they are being exposed to, what exactly is being done to address the problem, and what else would be done. It is irresponsible to dismiss as "misinformation" the results of scientific studies that have been reviewed by leading scientists and published in major journals.
If better data exists and more sound scientific findings are available, they should undergo the same kind of review and then be offered to the public. People are naturally skeptical of claims made by people hired by industry to make arguments to protect their profits and who refuse to submit their work to review by other experts.
This is not a comprehensive agenda. It is a modest list, and leaves out problems of water pollution in Utah Lake, toxic wastes and other concerns that need to be addressed. But the list is sufficiently long to indicate why celebratory pronouncements are premature.
There are too many children who can't play outside because air pollution levels are too high, there are too many lives cut short because of exposure to dangerous pollutants that could be avoided, there is so much garbage being dumped into the air we depend on for life.