New state plan to
clean our air.
The Utah Division of Air Quality has shared a preliminary version of their state implementation plan, which aims to restrict the highest levels of harmful substances in the outdoor air. These standards are required by the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C Section 7401) and must be developed, implemented, and upheld by the state. Once approved by the federal government, they become enforceable across the country. These plans serve as a framework for each state’s air protection efforts, and a maintenance plan is created to ensure clean air for at least two decades.
The EPA regulates air pollution through the Clean Air Act by setting standards for allowable levels of harmful air pollutants affecting human health. These standards, known as the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, help areas stay in compliance.
The plan falls short
While these standards focus on various air quality pollutants in Utah, the main focus is on particulate matter (PM 2.5) and ozone. Unfortunately, the current plan to reduce ozone in our airshed is not effective enough and puts the health of residents in Utah at risk, especially those living along the Wasatch Front. Without a better plan to address ozone production, the EPA may have to develop a Federal Implementation Plan, which could take years. It’s crucial that state and federal regulators work together to create a strong plan to protect the health of our community as soon as possible.
The state is currently trying to use the 179B waiver to account for total ozone emissions. This loophole in the Clean Air Act allows states to claim that they would have met the requirements for clean air if not for emissions from outside the US. However, in 2021, the EPA rejected the state’s attempt to blame China for its ozone nonattainment as insufficient.
We appreciate the state’s efforts to regulate the industrial sources we control in Utah. We should prioritize these programs instead of wasting resources and avoiding compliance with attainment levels. While ozone can cross state borders and is soon to be regulated through the CSAPR rule, the state’s initial modeling showed limited contributions from international sources.
Chemical solvents are responsible for more than double the amount of ozone compared to vehicles in the Northern Wasatch Front (NWF). Despite the state’s efforts to limit motor vehicle emissions, no concrete programs have been put in place to address solvent usage. Reducing the use of solvents could significantly decrease ozone levels in our airshed. According to the NWF Ozone Moderate SIP, current regulation R307-357 is aligned with the federal Ozone Transport Commission model rule. However, some states are proposing stricter regulations on solvents that emit VOCs, which are harmful precursors to ozone. It’s crucial for the State of Utah to assess the risks that solvents pose to public health and the environment, just as other states are doing.
Utah has already restricted the use of some of these chemicals in industrial and commercial settings. Regulating these solvents can have additional health benefits by reducing carcinogenic exposure. Utah can further regulate these areas to address the issue of ozone emissions.
California has some of the strictest solvent regulations in the country, banning several solvents on top of current EPA regulations such as methylene chloride, tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, toluene, chloroform, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), ethyl acetate, isopropyl alcohol, acetone, butyl acetate, and methyl ibutyl ketone (MIBK). It also requires the use of low-VOC solvents in various applications.
Similarly, New York, Vermont, Oregon, and Massachusetts have banned similar solvents and require the use of low VOC solvents in many applications.
Professor John Horel is currently conducting research at the University of Utah on the effects of exposing more of the Great Salt Lake Playa. This exposure can lead to increased heat and reflectance from sunlight off of the lakebed, which catalyzes the reaction of pollutants in the air and results in the production of a significant amount of ozone. To address this issue, the DAQ could collaborate with the newly formed office of the Great Salt Lake Commissioner, demonstrating a good-faith effort to address ozone precursor and ozone generation in the larger context of the Great Salt Lake’s water and air issues.
What’s the deal with ozone?
Utah’s ozone levels do not comply with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which have different levels of nonattainment ranging from Marginal to Extreme. The Wasatch Front recently moved up from Marginal to Moderate and will soon move to Serious.
Our goal is to achieve attainment status for ozone levels to ensure public health and safety. It’s important to note that high ozone levels have serious health effects on the respiratory system and can be especially harmful to those with preexisting conditions or who exercise outdoors. Doctors even refer to it as a “sunburn on the lungs.” Learn more about ozone here.
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