Former Gov. Olene Walker said her battle with lung disease prompted her to move to southern Utah.
Walker suffers from a condition called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a scarring of the lung tissue, which is aggravated by the fine particulates in the air on the Wasatch Front and makes it difficult for her to breathe. Consequently, she moved to St. George.
"Quite frankly, the quality of air does make a difference where people live," she said this week during a clean-air conference at the Hinckley Institute of Politics.
Unlike the Wasatch Front, St. George is not subject to the dirty air of periodic temperature inversions.
Inversions are loaded with particulates or airborne pollutants that cause many people cardiopulmonary distress, according to Arden Pope, a Brigham Young University economics professor.
After a labor dispute shut down Geneva Steel in Vineyard in 1986, the air in Utah Valley was measurably cleaner, he said. When it reopened 13 months later, the air became noticeably worse, he said. Pope said that prompted him to study the effects of the Geneva emissions on people. He collected hospital data for periods of time before, during and after the steel mill closed.
"The evidence was quite compelling. Air pollution from the steel mill contributed to children's respiratory disease," Pope said.
In other studies in which he collaborated, he said results showed long-term exposure to air pollution, especially particulate pollution coming from combustion-related activity increased the risk of death from cardiopulmonary diseases.
Not all Utah air is bad, said Bryce Bird of the state Division of Air Quality. The air quality is good most of the time, except during inversions and on days of high ozone or smog concentration. And, he said, it is better now than it was in the past. Utah has monitored air quality since the 1950s, and over time air quality standards have increased and air pollution has decreased, he said.
To reduce pollution Bird suggested employer-sponsored trip reductions. For example, employees may work from home instead of driving to the office.
Walker said more walking and less driving is important. She said Utahns need to lose their rural mentality and realize that 80 percent of the population is in an urban area.