March 1, 2012

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A Breath of Fresh Air

Air Quality is Important for a Healthy Economy

Heather Stewart

March 1, 2012

“All the low-hanging fruit has been picked,” he says.

The Division of Air Quality must present a plan for addressing PM2.5 pollution to the EPA by 2014. In the meantime, the Salt Lake Chamber has made air quality a top priority for this year. It is launching a “Clean Air Champions” program to recognize companies that are making a difference.

Gov. Gary R. Herbert has also launched a statewide initiative that encourages individuals, businesses and local governments to set air quality goals. The Utah Clean Air Partnership (U-CAIR) is entirely voluntary; the program offers tips and suggestions for families and companies to make realistic changes and set achievable goals.

Nationally, many communities with air quality problems have implemented regulations that limit the amount of time freight trucks and passenger vehicles can idle, especially in front of schools, in drive-through lanes or even at railroad crossings.

But Utah government and business leaders are hoping that Utahns will step up to the plate and voluntarily tackle our air quality challenges—because if we can’t meet this problem with our legendary pioneering spirit and entrepreneurial zeal, federally imposed regulations will make economic expansion much harder.

“Everybody needs to come to the table on improving air quality and show that they’re willing to make some changes—maybe it’s their daily lives, maybe it’s some minor changes to the way they run their business. But it’s got to be a joint effort to create positive change in the valley,” says Bennett.

Take a Deep Breath
On too many days it’s easy to see the smog in our air—the unpleasant brownish haze that obscures the mountains and the downtown skyline—but it’s not so easy to see what it’s doing to our bodies.

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, a group of doctors and other health professionals who are concerned about the health risks presented by the local air quality, has combed the research and come to some startling conclusions: up to 2,000 Utahns die each year as a direct result of air pollution and, in general, it reduces our lifespan by as much as two years.

“For people with chronic illness, it increases the risk of problems, especially if it’s respiratory or a heart ailment—cardiovascular or pulmonary problems,” says Dr. Richard Kanner, professor of internal medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine and board member of UPHE. “They’re more apt to say they have asthma symptoms; they’re more apt to use more medications; they may have to go to the emergency room. They’re also at a greater risk of dying, if their disease is advanced.”

It’s hard to say how the air pollution affects healthy adults, says Dr. Kanner. But he notes that fine particulate pollution builds up in the respiratory system. “They may very well be a Trojan Horse carrying heavy metals from the soil here—polyaromatic hydrocarbons that can be toxic,” he says.

High pollution levels are directly related to an increased number of hospital visits, says Dr. Kanner, as well as to the number of heart attacks, strokes, asthma attacks, and cases of pneumonia and bronchitis. “There is usually a lag period of a few days between the peak of the inversion and the air pollution and the onset of people coming to the ER,” he notes.

UPHE points to research from the Utah Department of Health, which found that more than 16 percent of children in North Salt Lake and Woods Cross have asthma—while the normal prevalence is 5 percent. The affected area is close to both I-15 and oil refineries.

“It hits people with smaller airways harder,” says Dr. Kanner. “Children have smaller airways…more of the material is going to be caught in the airways and stay in the body.”

What You Can Do

Carpool, bike or use mass transit
On bad air days, postpone errands that can wait
Combine your errands into one trip
Keep your vehicle well maintained
Don’t “warm” your vehicle by letting it idle
Avoid drive-through lanes
Don’t idle outside schools or airports
Accelerate gradually
Obey the speed limit
Purchase Energy Star appliances and lighting
Use a snow shovel and a push mower
Rake leaves instead of using a blower
Use a non-charcoal barbecue
Maintain your air conditioner and furnace

What YourBusiness Can Do

Create flexible schedules to reduce rush-hour traffic
When feasible, encourage telecommuting
Implement a rideshare program for your employees
Keep your fleet vehicles well maintained
Purchase fuel-efficient or alternative-fuel vehicles
Keep all solvents and paints in
air-tight containers
Adopt pollution prevention methods—they will not only prevent air pollution but will also result in savings for your company

* Adapted from the Utah Division of Air Quality


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