SALT LAKE CITY — Nicole Milavetz loves to hike, except when it makes her sick.
The West High senior also enjoys riding her bike to school, she said, though the dirty air along the Wasatch Front — particularly during wintertime inversions — makes that a risky decision.
"The problem has become pretty extreme," she said.
Milavetz and her fellow members of the West High School Environmental Club visited the Capitol on Thursday to chat with state lawmakers about Utah's poor air quality and how it impacts their lives.
"We are the generation that really needs to step up and start being more aggressive," she said.
The dirty air is harmful to students' health, Milavetz said, "which results in inability to study, lowering of test scores and worsening of mental health, which is a really big issue for our school."
Students who have asthma are particularly harmed by poor air quality, she said.
The students wanted to talk specifically about HB38, a bill that would restrict use of fireworks, and HB211, which would create procedures for grants issued for the reduction of "freight switcher" locomotive emissions.
"I think that just youth taking action … is especially important because everything we are discussing and lobbying today is going to impact our lives in the future and impact our children and grandchildren," said Andie Madsen, a West High sophomore.
The students joined HEAL Utah, the Clean Air Caucus and the Utah Environmental Caucus at the Capitol to encourage legislators to support clean air measures.
Kare McManama-Kearin, representing the Utah Environmental Caucus, said she wanted to personally thank House Minority Assistant Whip Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, for all she has done on air quality issues.
McManama-Kearin said she's most concerned about HB101 and HB171. All counties along the Wasatch Front have emission inspection requirements except for Utah County, though HB101 would change that, she said.
McManama-Kearin said her husband had a heart attack last year and can't go outside during the winter. She's also motivated to seek solutions to Utah's air quality problems by her 16 grandchildren, she said.
McManama-Kearin said Romero's HB171 "adds teeth" to a current law dealing with emissions that is "unenforceable" as it is now.7 comments on this story
The clean air activists also gave lawmakers a small chapbook of poems and stories from Utahns about clean air and how it affects their lives. "Breathing Stories: Utah Voices for Clean Air" can be read at torreyhouse.org/breathing-stories.
The Legislature has several bills on tap this session that seek to address Utah's air quality problems.
According to a report from the American Lung Association in 2017, Utah's air quality gets an "F" for ozone pollution and a "D" for particulate pollution.