If you are a Wasatch Front resident, you likely know that we have not had one full day of “green” or clean air since the first week of June. The most conspicuous contributor to this oppressive streak has been an intense wildfire season plaguing the entire Western United States and many other parts of the world. Scientists predict this trend will continue and accelerate.
While Utahns have limited influence over the global climate factors behind the wildfire epidemic, we can certainly manage sources of pollution created locally. As we are entering a new era where we become victims of pollution beyond our control, we should feel even more compelled to do everything in our power to limit those we can control. One important local source is the Geneva gravel pit and mining operation at the Point of the Mountain.
Geneva is asking the Draper City Council to approve its request to expand and move higher up the mountain, opening up a new area to mine for the next several decades. Everyone in Salt Lake and Utah counties should be alarmed.
While Geneva has about 20 gravel pits on the Wasatch Front, the Point of Mountain operation is uniquely positioned in the absolute worst possible place. The POM is an internationally acclaimed paragliding destination because of its persistent winds. Wind over 10 mph can launch dust from any disturbed, raw land surface. The winds at the POM exceed that threshold 80 percent of the time, and exceed 25 mph over 50 percent of the time.
Citizen pollution monitors have documented that Draper homes and yards downwind of Geneva are often blanketed by a fine mist of dust, exposing area residents to much higher levels of pollution than the rest of the valley. But Geneva dust is carried much further, up and down Salt Lake and Utah counties depending on the direction of the wind. The most dangerous particles, the smallest ones called “ultra fines,” can stay suspended in the atmosphere for days or even weeks, and can be transported thousands of miles.
The public health burden of Geneva’s gravel pit is not reflected in its statistical contribution to overall pollution in the community airshed. Dust from mining operations and diesel exhaust from heavy equipment are serious health hazards. Both types of pollution contain unique toxins. Analysis of the soil at the edges of Geneva’s existing operations has revealed abnormally high contamination with toxic heavy metals, including high concentrations of uranium and arsenic. Crystalline silica, ubiquitous in gravel pit dust, destroys lung tissue and can lead to lung cancer and increased susceptibility to tuberculosis. While chronic silicosis is usually thought of as an occupational disease, significant rates of non-occupational silicosis have been documented in residents exposed to frequent dust storms.
Neighborhoods near Geneva include children and babies, greatly magnifying the public health consequences. Because of greater physical activity, higher metabolic rates and hand-to-mouth actions, young children will be more exposed than adults via both inhalation and ingestion. Exposure of pregnant women will extend the public health consequences to more than one generation because of the damage that this pollution can do to chromosomes and fetal development. Toxic dust may “drape” over Draper for 30 years, but the health consequences will last even longer.
Thousands of studies reveal the broad base of diseases and impaired health outcomes provoked by particulate air pollution. Numerous additional studies of people chronically exposed to dust from such things as the desiccated Aral Sea, Owens Lake and the Sahara Desert reveal a wide range of poor health outcomes, including shortened life expectancy, high rates of cancer, infectious diseases, respiratory and heart disease, reproductive pathologies, adverse pregnancy outcomes, anemia, birth defects and high infant mortality. Even short-term inhalation of particles typical of gravel pit dust is associated with increased hospitalizations for heart disease.
There is a time and a place for everything. This is not the time, and the POM is not the place for 30 years of even more mining dust from Geneva.
The Draper City Council will vote on this contentious issue Wednesday evening, 6 p.m. at Draper City Hall. We urge you to attend and speak up for protecting your family’s health.