The Utah County Council of Governments has welcomed the rescission of air-quality guidelines proposed by the Utah Air Conservation Committee, but COG members have little reason to breath easy considering how bad county air is.
That is what COG members were told at their latest monthly meeting. Council members were warned that population growth in Utah Valley, the valley's susceptibility to temperature inversions, and air pollution from Geneva Plant have made Utah Valley air increasingly dirtier."We have to change our lifestyle," said Linda Clark, who represents the county on the Utah Clean Air Coalition. In light of the county's increasing population, she said, county officials can no longer ignore poor air quality.
In December, the Air Conservation Committee rescinded action that would have eliminated open burning of clippings, bushes, plants and tree prunings in Utah, Salt Lake, Duchesne and Weber counties. Utah County COG members worked vigorously for several months against implementation of the guidelines.
Under current county ordinance, open burning is allowed for a short period in the spring. The state proposal, however, would not have prohibited burning related to agricultural or horticultural operations of five acres or more.
"We're not out of the woods yet on this thing," said James Prather, Elk Ridge mayor pro tem. He said the Environmental Protection Agency "is holding a gun to the county's head."
Because the Air Conservation Committee will consider open burning during its preparation of what is called the State Implementation Plan for fine particulates, Prather said, guidelines could end up being even more strict than those proposed last year by the conservation committee. A national health plan to reduce particulates smaller than 10 microns - primarily from combustion sources like open burning, wood stoves and industry - began in 1987.
If the state fails to develop a plan to comply with the national particulate standard, the EPA will arbitrarily implement a plan. Mapleton Mayor Everet Predmore, COG chairman, said he is bothered by the assumption that all particulates below 10 microns and all open fires are hazardous.
"It is just not true, at least in my own estimation," he said.
But F. Burnell Cordner, Air Conservation Committee executive director, said particulates don't necessarily have to be toxic to aggravate health problems.
"Although many healthy people may not experience problems associated with the fine particulates," Cordner said in a letter to Predmore, "there is a portion of the population that is sensitive and experiences respiratory disorders caused or aggravated by the particles."
In a letter to Predmore last week, Gov. Norm Bangerter encouraged COG to work with Health Department officials to improve local air quality. "I receive numerous letters and telephone calls from Utah County residents concerned over the poor quality of the air in the county," he said.
Rapid population growth and the reopening of Geneva mean solutions to poor air are urgent, Clark told COG members. "I would like you to consider alternatives to burning" such as shredding, she said.
Sam Rushforth, a Brigham Young University biologist and member of Utah Valley Citizens for Clean Air, said particulate hazards in Utah County are more serious than carbon monoxide problems.
"PM10 (particulates smaller than 10 microns) is a critical issue to the children in our valley," Rushforth said. The more fine particulates in the air, he said, the more problems with bronchitis and asthma.
"Geneva Steel must clean up their PM10," Rushforth said. "They know that."
He asked COG members to increase monitoring of air quality throughout the county. "I think the awakening for the air issue is now."