SLC/Ogden area air flunks / State disputes methodology of American Lung Association report
OGDEN — Even though Utah’s heavily polluted metropolitan areas did better in this year’s American Lung Association "State of the Air" report, they still flunked.
State officials were quick to attack the methodology of the report.
The Salt Lake City/Ogden metro area ranked seventh in the nation for most polluted by particulate matter.
Plus, Salt Lake, Cache and Utah counties all ranked in the Top 25 most polluted counties in the nation.
In all cases, the rankings are because of short-term spikes in air pollution.
"We have a problem with that report because they basically just take the days that Utah has exceeded the standard, but it’s more complicated," said Donna Spangler, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.
"They do their ratings looking at the days when Utah has had really high values, which we don’t dispute, but at the same time, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) measures those by taking a three-year average, not just one particular day, one particular moment, one particular time."
Clean-air advocates in Utah, as well as the American Lung Association, defended the data, saying Utah’s short-term spikes of bad air are deadly and the ill effects last long after the air clears.
"We know these spikes have their somewhat unique health consequences," said Brian Moench, a Salt Lake City physician and founder of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.
During a spike in bad air, he said, "we know the overall community mortality rates do rise, mostly from heart attacks, but the mortality rates stay elevated for 30 days after the spikes have receded."
"So yes, there is significant public health consequence to those spikes."
Cherise Udell, founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air, said the F grade, even if an improvement, is still not acceptable.
"As a mom, if my child came home with failing grades, I would be really upset and we would be having some serious conversations," she said, "and I’m calling on our governor and our Legislature and the Department of Environmental Quality to do the same thing.
"We’re basically getting an F, and they need to be doing better for the children of Utah and for the quality of life here in Utah."
The American Lung Association report released Tuesday ranks cities, counties, states and metropolitan areas according to how clean or dirty their air is because of particulate matter and ozone.
Overall, the report says, the nation is doing better, with most major metropolitan areas showing improved levels of both particulate matter and ozone.
However, the report says, "despite that progress, State of the Air 2010 reveals that more than half the population of the United States still suffers pollution levels that are too often dangerous to breathe. The report finds that unhealthy air remains a threat to the lives and health of more than 175 million people."
The Salt Lake City/Ogden metro area ranked No. 7 on the list of 10 cities most polluted by short-term particulate matter, as measured over a 24-hour period. Worst in the nation was Bakersfield, Calif.
The Salt Lake City/Ogden metro area shows 18.17 average days between 2006 and 2008 of unacceptably bad air because of fine particulate matter. That compares to 28 days between 2004 and 2006, but is still way above the 3.3 average days that the ALA considers to be a passing grade.
Two other Utah areas also made the list of the Top 25 most polluted: Provo-Orem ranked No. 13 and Logan ranked No. 18. Logan is in a three-way tie with Washington, D.C., and New York City.
Three counties in Utah made the Top 25 most polluted counties in the nation. Salt Lake County ranked No. 8 as most polluted by short-term particulate matter; Utah County was No. 15, with Cache County at No. 20.
Janice Nolen, assistant vice president of the American Lung Association, said during a national news conference Tuesday that 16 million fewer Americans now live in areas that get failing grades for air quality, "but nearly six out of 10 Americans live in areas where the air is dirty enough to send people to the hospital."
The improvements are because of cleaner-burning fuels, a reduction in coal-fired electric plant emissions and cleaner-running automobiles, she said.
Dr. Norman Edelman, the ALA’s chief medical officer, said the group is using recent research data to take a more serious look at the impact of pollution levels.
A high ozone level, which hits Utah in the summertime because of the interaction of automobile exhaust and sunlight, "really burns and it burns all the delicate tissues it’s exposed to in your eyes and your lungs."
This causes shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing, "and in some people, it may cause early death," especially in people with lung diseases.
Particulate matter, which causes Utah’s spikes of pollution in the winter, can also kill, he said.
"Here, death is a major complication. A major effect of particulate pollution, even short-term exposure to particle pollution, can be deadly."
This year, he said, the American Lung Association looked at various groups that are more at risk, including the poor, who tend to live closer to highways and industrial areas.
In Utah, the study found that 72,974 children and 142,000 adults are at increased risk from air pollution because of asthma, and almost 150,000 of those live in the Salt Lake City/Ogden area. Another 141,000 are at risk because of poverty.
Maybe if the people who live in neighborhoods did not have to suffer from the yearly yard trimming burning.The practice should be outlawed especially in the dense neighborhoods we have now. It is even allowed within feet of schools, churches and playgrounds!