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Utah cities among worst for air quality in the country…but there’s some good news

Smog covers Salt Lake City as an inversion lingers. (Qiling Wang, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – The American Lung Association released its latest “State of the Air” report, which ranks Salt Lake City and Logan, Utah in the top 20 cities for worst air quality in the country. However, it’s not all bad news.

The Salt Lake City area, which includes Provo and Orem in this report, was ranked seventh-worst in the country for short-term particle pollution and eleventh for ozone pollution for the years 2016-2018. Logan placed thirteenth for the worst for short-term particle pollution during that same time.

Seven of the 14 Utah counties surveyed got “F” grades in ozone pollution, with six getting “F” grades for short-term particle pollution.

Davis, Salt Lake, Utah, and Weber counties got “F” grades in both categories.

The ALA’s Clean Air Advocacy Director Will Barrett says most of the pollution comes from the tailpipes of cars and trucks, but there was another reason the air quality in northern Utah was more polluted than normal.

“Those were three of the hottest years on record, and we also saw major wildfire activity throughout the western U.S. That also played a role in elevated increases in unhealthy particle pollution days,” Barrett says.

Barrett says all that pollution is affecting a lot of people.

“Breathing ozone and particle pollution can cause asthma attacks, respiratory and cardiovascular problems, and even premature deaths…Unfortunately, that includes 2.5 million people in the Salt Lake City area, including about 40,000 children with asthma and 170,000 adults with asthma,” Barrett says.

Critics of the annual “State of the Air” report believe it is unfair to give Salt Lake County the same grade as places in California’s Central Valley, whose air pollution can be so thick the view of the mountains are obscured behind a wall of brown.

Cities in California, including Bakersfield, Fresno, and Los Angeles, were ranked in the top four places with the worst air pollution.

It was not all bad news for Utah. The Salt Lake area had about 20 fewer bad air days than it did 20 years ago.

St. George was also listed as the ninth cleanest city for year-round particle pollution and one of the cleanest cities for short-term particle pollution. Washington County as a whole did well with low short-term particle pollution counts, as did Uintah County.

San Juan County had lower than average ozone levels for Utah.

Ultimately, Barrett would like to see more action on the federal level to protect the Clean Air Act, which is having its 50th anniversary this year.

“We’ve seen in recent weeks the weakening of federal cleaner car standards, weakening of standards for controlling pollution from power plants, and [they need to] set standards and maintain standards that are doing the job of cleaning our air” Barrett said.