Utah’s air quality, particularly in our mountain valleys, has been a topic of growing concern due to its significant health and environmental impacts.
Numerous studies highlight that Utah’s unique geographical features, combined with industrial activities, lead to varying levels of air pollution, causing health and environmental problems. Below are Utah’s top emitters:
Vehicle emissions, including idling engines from private passenger vehicles to heavy-duty vehicles, are the most significant contributors to air pollution in urban areas.
Residential and commercial buildings contribute to air pollution through heating and other energy uses. This source, without action, is on track to becoming the leading source of air pollution, especially in densely populated areas.
Industrial activities, including oil and gas production, emit a variety of pollutants. The Uinta Basin in Utah, for instance, can experience high concentrations of pollution due to oil production activities, particularly from wintertime ozone episodes.
Emerging Threat - The Great Salt Lake
The rapidly shrinking Great Salt Lake poses a new air pollution risk, especially to already overburdened communities. As the lakebed dries, it exposes centuries of accumulated toxins that, when airborne, contribute to air quality issues along the Wasatch Front and Tooele Valley. This phenomenon requires urgent attention in order to prevent a worsening of the current air quality problems.
Read more here.
Researchers at the University of Utah have discovered toxic materials in dust samples taken from recently uncovered areas of the Great Salt Lake Playa. These dangerous substances include heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and arsenic, as well as harmful pollutants such as sulfate and chloride compounds. Furthermore, a study from NASA published this spring showed that Tooele and the west side of Salt Lake City are at a higher risk of exposure to toxic pollutants from dust events. As the lake levels continue to decline, these events will only increase in intensity, which poses a significant risk to public health and the local environment.
The health effects of air pollution in Utah are profound, ranging from increased rates of asthma, cardiovascular, and lung diseases to more severe impacts like premature deaths and reduced life expectancy. In particular, studies have shown a clear association between increased PM2.5 levels and mortality among pediatric, adolescent, and young adult cancer patients. Air pollution also disproportionately affects vulnerable populations, highlighting the need for targeted interventions.
In the short term, exposure to poor air quality, particularly high levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ground-level ozone, can lead to immediate respiratory problems, exacerbating conditions like asthma and bronchitis. It can also cause headaches, eye irritation, and fatigue.
In the long term, ongoing exposure to air pollution is linked to chronic health issues such as heart disease, lung cancer, and reduced lung function. Vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly, and those with preexisting health conditions, face a disproportionate burden of these health effects. Environmental justice concerns often highlight that low-income communities and communities of color have greater exposure to poor air quality, exacerbating health disparities.
HEAL Utah's Air Quality Priorities
HEAL believes that action on air pollution is action on climate change. That advocating for clean air is one of the most immediate ways we can protect communities and the environment. That’s why we advocate for the following:
- Policies that invest in people not cars, such as safe and equitable access to public transportation, biking, and walking.
- Policies that reduce our exposure to greenhouse gas emissions ranging from diesel engines to improved fuel economy and idle reduction strategies
- Policies that strengthen and defend regulations and air quality standards.
- Policies that prioritize public health and frontline communities, including action on the Great Salt Lake and limiting our exposure to fugitive dust sources
We urge individuals to reach out to lawmakers, advocating for measures that address these key pollution sources. With efforts focusing on reducing emissions from vehicles, buildings, and industries, and proactive measures to manage the emerging threat from the Great Salt Lake, we can work towards a cleaner air future in Utah. Your voice matters in this critical fight against air pollution. Join us in urging our leaders to take decisive action now!
High Ethylene and Propylene in an Area Dominated by Oil Production – Lyman, S., Holmes, M., Tran, H., Tran, T., & O’Neil, T. (2020). Atmosphere.
Air Quality and Behavioral Impacts of Anti-Idling Campaigns in School Drop-Off Zones – Mendoza, D., Benney, T., Bares, R., Fasoli, B., Anderson, C., Gonzales, S. A., Crosman, E., Bayles, M., Forrest, R. T., Contreras, J. R., & Hoch, S. (2022). Atmosphere.
Historic and Modern Air Pollution Studies Conducted in Utah – Ou, J., Pirozzi, C., Horne, B., Hanson, H., Kirchhoff, A., Mitchell, L., Coleman, N., & Pope, C. A. P. (2020). Atmosphere.