Preliminary results of a Geneva Steel study show that the air pollution in Utah Valley isn't worse than that of many urban areas in the West, according to the study's director.
"I don't think there's any reason to panic," said John A. Cooper, president of Nuclear Environmental Analysis Inc., Beaverton, Ore.Cooper briefed the Utah Air Conservation Committee Wednesday on some of the first indications from a study that Geneva commissioned in January, after the state released its own study showing that 65 percent of the particulates in Utah County's air come from Geneva.
Tiny particulates called PM10 are the most dangerous type, because they can lodge deep in the lungs. Much of the PM10 pollution in Utah County seems to come from sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides, Cooper said.
According to a chart he showed the committee, among sources of sulfur oxides in Utah County are: Geneva Steel, 39.6 percent; vehicles, 32.3 percent; Brigham Young University, 15.6 percent. For nitrogen oxides, he said 20 percent came from Geneva Steel, while vehicles contributed 73.1 percent.
Salt Lake County produces 94.1 percent of the sulfur oxide pollution from "point sources" in the air of three counties considered together - that is, Salt Lake, Utah and Tooele counties, he said. The Salt Lake area also emits 62 percent of the nitrogen oxides, he said.
Point sources are stationary producers of pollution, like factories. They don't include vehicles.
The figures mean that in terms of industrial pollution, Utah County produces only 4.3 percent of the sulfur oxides and 26 percent of the nitrogen oxides. Tooele County puts out 1.1 percent of sulfur oxides and 12 percent of nitrogen oxides.
This indicates that for sulfur oxides, Geneva Steel produces only about a third of the 4.3 percent of the overall problem in the three counties.
Some pollution may carry from Salt Lake County into Utah County, the figures seem to indicate.
"Is Utah County clearly decoupled from Salt Lake County? I think that's a very important question," he said.
Some of the information so far has come from Environmental Protection Agency records, but his company is doing its own sampling. It includes air-quality monitors that separate coarse and fine particulates, and even devices that look like vacuum cleaners, which pick up particles from roads.
He said samples at Lindon, Utah County, often show higher particulate concentrations than those from a station close to the Geneva plant.
Burnell Cordner, director of the Utah Bureau of Air Quality, said that isn't surprising. Meteorologists would expect that with stacks as high as Geneva Steel's, releasing pollution at several hundred degrees, that the material would behave like a hot gas and carry quite a distance before settling out.
"Certainly Salt Lake County emits more sulfur and more nitrous oxides than Utah County," he said. But he doesn't know if this is why the levels are higher in Utah County.
"We need to see a lot more data," Cordner said.