What’s the deal with Utah’s summertime Ozone pollution?
Learn about ozone pollution and how you can take action.
Learn about ozone pollution and how you can take action.
Did you know that Utah’s air quality is affected by pollution in both summer and winter? During the winter, air quality in the northern valleys, including Salt Lake City, is among the worst in the nation due to a combination of geography and emissions from human activities. The air is so bad that we can see it. However, in the summer, we face a different type of pollution— ozone pollution, which is invisible but just as harmful to our health.
Ozone is a gas made up of three oxygen molecules. While “good ozone” in the stratosphere protects us from the sun’s harmful UV radiation, “bad ozone,” or ground-level ozone, is a major concern, primarily during summer. This type of pollution is created when “ozone precursors” like NOx and VOCs build up throughout the day and react in the presence of heat and sunshine, forming ozone. Once ozone is created, it can blow across regions and states, affecting people far away from the original pollutant sources.
Exposure to ozone pollution has been described as feeling like getting a sunburn on your lungs. It can damage our lungs and cardiovascular systems, as well as other organ systems.
Due to climate change, Utah is experiencing hotter and drier summers, which means more ground-level ozone. Here at HEAL Utah, we want to help you stay informed and safe, so you can take action to protect yourself and your community.
Gif source: New York Times
Exposure to ozone can have harmful effects on health, particularly in vulnerable groups such as children, elderly individuals, pregnant people, those with pre-existing lung conditions like asthma, and people who engage in outdoor physical activities. Some common adverse effects include difficulty breathing, chest discomfort, headaches, coughing, aggravated asthma symptoms, lung inflammation, and temporary reduction in lung function. Long-term exposure to ozone has been linked to chronic respiratory issues and increased risk of respiratory infections. Studies have shown linkages between ozone exposure and nervous system, reproductive, and developmental harms. Although higher ozone levels can pose a greater risk, even lower levels may impact sensitive populations.
Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moved the Northern Wasatch Front area, which includes Salt Lake and Davis counties and parts of Tooele and Weber counties, from “marginal” to “moderate” nonattainment in November 2021. This means the eight-hour average ozone levels have worsened from 0.071-0.080 parts per million to 0.081-0.093 parts per million.
In March of this year, the EPA unveiled its most up-to-date “good neighbor” rule, seeking to significantly reduce smog-forming nitrogen oxide pollution from power plants and industrial facilities across two dozen states, including Utah. The “good neighbor” rule, also known as the “Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR),” aims to help states meet air quality standards within their boundaries by creating an accountability mechanism for out-of-state sources of ozone.
The rule requires Utah and other states to submit plans to reduce emissions from fossil fuel-fired plants and industrial plants contributing to bad air quality in neighboring states. However, if a state fails to submit a plan or submits a plan that does not meet federal standards for protecting downwind states, the federal government will step in to ensure compliance. The “good neighbor” rule is projected to reduce nitrogen oxide production from power plants by 50% in the next four years.
In response to the EPA’s move to expand the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule to western states, an expensive legal campaign is being waged by Rocky Mountain Power and the state of Utah, amongst others, to avoid compliance. During the 2023 Legislative session, Utah Lawmakers went so far as to appropriate $2 million taxpayer dollars for this fight against the EPA’s new rule. And yet, Rocky Mountain Power recently announced its plans to shut down its last two remaining coal-fired power plants in Utah. The company says that it plans to phase out coal power from the plants to meet federal pollution standards over the short term while building new, small-scale nuclear power plants as replacements for the long term. Although the Hunter and Huntington plants are set to close in the next decade, we have doubts about the feasibility and timeline of their proposed plans. Our official statement can be found here.
Let’s work together to reduce pollution, especially invisible ozone pollution that will impact us this summer. What can you do? The good news is that there are many ways to reduce ozone pollution both individually and collectively in our state.
On an individual level, one of the biggest ways to reduce air pollution and ozone is to drive less and avoid idling. Vehicle exhaust contributes significantly to our ozone pollution. We encourage you to consider alternatives such as public transit, carpooling, or using your car sparingly. You can also update your home or building with the best and most efficient appliances.
However, it’s essential to remember that systemic change is needed, especially considering that our ability to get from one place to another still relies heavily on cars. Therefore, collective action is necessary to ensure we develop the policies and regulations needed to protect our communities from ozone pollution.
To become more involved in civic engagement and promote adherence to state and federal ozone plans, you can use our action alert to contact decision-makers and make plans to attend upcoming compliance meetings.
Air Plan Disapprovals; Interstate Transport of Air Pollution for the 2015 8-Hour Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards. (2023, February 13). Federal Register. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2023/02/13/2023-02407/air-plan-disapprovals-interstate-transport-of-air-pollution-for-the-2015-8-hour-ozone-national
COBI. (n.d.). Retrieved May 19, 2023, from https://cobi.utah.gov/2023/1/issues/20444
US EPA, O. (2015, May 15). Ground-level Ozone Pollution [Other Policies and Guidance]. https://www.epa.gov/ground-level-ozone-pollution
US EPA, O. (2016, June 21). Ozone Designation and Classification Information [Data and Tools]. https://www.epa.gov/green-book/ozone-designation-and-classification-information
US EPA, O. (2022, February 10). Good Neighbor Plan for 2015 Ozone NAAQS [Other Policies and Guidance]. https://www.epa.gov/csapr/good-neighbor-plan-2015-ozone-naaqs