Prediction: Weber County residents will be next to suffer through annual auto pollution inspection and maintenance. But if Salt Lake County's air quality is any indication, it will be worth it.

Robert Dalley, manager of the planning section for the Utah Bureau of Air Quality, said Weber County is in violation of Clean Air Act federal clean air standards - the standards that forced Salt Lake, Davis and Utah counties to begin the I/M program."We have received a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency which strongly suggests, but has not mandated at this time, that Weber County begin an I/M program," said Robert Dalley, manager of the planning section, Utah Bureau of Air Quality.

Meanwhile, the Salt Lake and Utah county programs have been working well. "EPA indicated that Utah County probably had one of the best-operated decentralized programs in the nation," he said.

The report for Salt Lake County says, "Overall, it appears the county is continuing to improve on an established, well-operating I/M program. EPA, however, is alerting the state and county that Salt Lake County and city are still nonattainment (haven't attained the standards) for ozone and carbon monoxide respectively."

The state plan, designed to attain the standard, will be reviewed soon with an eye toward reducing pollution further. "Such a review may require additional requirements in the I/M program," the report warns.

Tailpipe pollution that spewed into Salt Lake County's air in 1987 was less than ever before. The Salt Lake County Bureau of Air Pollution Control says, "The standard for ozone was never exceeded and the standard for carbon monoxide was exceeded only twice."

Still, Jeff Houk of the EPA's Denver headquarters says of the county program, "I wouldn't call it exemplary. It's certainly a solid program."

Some aspects of the county program aren't liked by EPA. These include the use of manual analyzers, rather than computerized equipment, and a decentralized inspection process.

Computerized analyzers and centralized inspection - where people would drive to one or a few facilities to be tested by state employees - allow tighter control of the program, the agency believes.

"It generally works better," Houk said.

"One measure that EPA uses to look at an inspection program is the failure rate," he said.

Based on the standards and types of vehicles in this area, Salt Lake County was supposed to fail 20 percent of the vehicles tested. The actual figure was just under that.

As far as Davis County is concerned, Dalley said, "The county is working very diligently to correct some concerns that were identified, as part of the audit program by the EPA." The county took steps in November to correct these defects.

Asked what's the trouble with Davis County, Houk said, "It's not operating nearly as well as the other two Utah programs."

A low failure rate was found at Davis County, meaning too many polluters were passing the tests. That's one of the problems with using manual analyzers, he said.

"It looks to us like it's part program design, in that there's inherently less control in using the manual analyzers," he said. Also, up until the audit last August, Davis County may not have put as much effort into the program.

Our little boy, Sky, is an astronomy buff. On Sunday we sat on the sofa reading the article in Parade Magazine about the color of the atmospheres of the planets of the solar system.

I was struck by the fragility and beauty of our own atmosphere. If you still have Sunday's Deseret News around, take a look at the picture. Here's a photograph of Earth as seen from space. The atmosphere is a delicate layer on a big world.

A climber can barely breathe without an oxygen tank on top of the world's highest mountain, K-2 (sorry, Everest), at 29,064 feet above sea level. Let's say the usable atmosphere is an envelope five and a half miles thick. Counting both sides of the earth, that's 11 miles.

The diameter of our planet is 7,924 miles. The atmosphere is in the range of 14 ten-thousands as thick as the earth. To put it in human terms:

If you bought a huge globe eight feet across, and wanted to show how high the air reaches, you'd have to move your fingertip closer and closer until it was just under seven one-hundredths of an inch above the surface.

The fact is, if we want to drive, we have a responsibility to do whatever is feasible to protect our precious airshed.