Utah Has Shitty Air Quality

Salt Lake City Night Sky
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A new report from the American Lung Association has revealed that Salt Lake City and Logan, Utah, rank among the cities with some of the worst air quality nationwide. The 2022 “State of the Air” report, released today, shows the two Utah towns are doing better for some of the most harmful and widespread types of air pollution: particle pollution and ozone (smog), but not so great overall, ranking 10th in the nation.

Compared to last year’s report, the Salt Lake City region improved slightly from 17th to 20th most polluted for short-term particle pollution and from 8th to 10th most polluted for ozone. Logan-area residents experienced an improvement with fewer unhealthy days of short-term particle pollution spikes. Logan’s ranking improved from 7th to 18th most polluted for short-term particle pollution.

On the brightside, St. George ranked among the country’s cleanest cities, making the lists for both short-term and year-round particle pollution.

The “State of the Air” report is the Lung Association’s annual air quality “report card” that tracks and grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthy levels of smog, soot, and short-term spikes in particle pollution, over a three-year period. This year’s report covers 2018-2020. See the full report at Lung.org/sota.

“Despite some recent improvements, the levels of ozone and particle pollution seen in several areas of Utah can still harm the health of all of our residents. But particularly at risk are children, older adults, pregnant people, and those living with chronic disease. Both ozone and particle pollution can cause premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm. Particle pollution can also cause lung cancer,” said Nick Torres, advocacy director for the Lung Association.

Ground-level Ozone Pollution in Utah

For the second report in a row, the Salt Lake City metro area experienced fewer unhealthy days of high ozone on average, after having seen several years of increases between the 2017 and 2020 “State of the Air” reports. The region’s weighted average of 21.8 days was still high enough to rank 10th among the nation’s most polluted cities for ozone pollution.

Uintah County and Duchesne County each showed slight improvements over last year’s report, but still earned Fs.

Particle Pollution in Utah

The report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. Short-term particle pollution in the Salt Lake City metro area reached its lowest ever, but the area still ranks 20th among the most-polluted cities nationally in that category. Utah County’s weighted average of 8.0 days is trending in the right direction, down from a high of 31.7 days in the “State of the Air 2006.”

Short-term particle pollution in Logan also showed improvements, but still ranks among the country’s most polluted cities in that category (18th). Compared to last year’s report, Cache County’s weighted average of unhealthy particle pollution days dropped from 12.7 to 9.3 days. Like Utah County, Cache County is also trending in the right direction. The weighted average of 9.3 days in this year’s report still earns an F, but it is significantly down from Cache County’s worst period of 31.8 days in “State of the Air 2008.”

The 2022 “State of the Air” found that year-round particle pollution levels in Utah were slightly worse overall than in last year’s report, but all counties earned passing grades. The Salt Lake City region maintained the same year-round particle pollution levels as in last year’s report, the area’s best ever.

The report found that nationwide, nearly 9 million more people were impacted by deadly particle pollution than reported last year. It also shows more days with “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” air quality than ever before in the two-decade history of this report. Overall, more than 137 million Americans live in counties that had unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution. Communities of color are disproportionately exposed to unhealthy air. The report found that people of color were 61% more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade for at least one pollutant, and 3.6 times as likely to live in a county with a failing grade for all three pollutants.

Fortunately, Utahns have several escape-to-clean-air routes. Just head up to the mountains along I-80, Little and Big Cottonwood canyons, out to the Uintas, or up Provo Canyon for fresh breaths.

The addition of 2020 data to the 2022 “State of the Air” report gives a first look at air quality trends during the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of the shutdowns in early 2020, there was no obvious improvement.

The American Lung Association is calling on the Biden administration to strengthen the national limits on both short-term and year-round particulate matter air pollution. See the full report results and sign the petition here.

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