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Health, Science & Environment

Scientific Sleuthing Begins on Utah's Pollution Problem

Erik Crosman
University of Utah
A wintertime inversion or \"cold-air pool\" traps air pollution over the Salt Lake Valley

Utah’s winter pollution season officially gets underway this weekend, and thanks to $1 million from the Legislature, new research is focusing on what causes the state’s air-quality problems and how to solve them.

A dozen studies will look hard at what makes sooty winter pollution so nasty in Utah and why ground level ozone gets so high. They also will zero in on air chemistry and the weather’s role.

Patrick Barickman, who oversees the studies for the Utah Division of Air Quality, says some of the problems are Utah-specific.

“We consider it an applied research program, seeking to understand what are some quite complex problems related to different aspects of the air-pollution problems that we have,” he says. “They are problems that know are there but really haven’t had the resources to look at these questions in the kind of depth that we are able to now with this research money.”

Studies will take place in Utah’s cities and in rural areas like the Great Salt Lake and the Uintah Basin. Pollution from oil and gas drilling and from tailpipes and wood-burning will get a look. So will wild fires and dust storms.

Barickman says the idea is to figure out what pollution controls will work best.

“It allows us to take a scalpel to the problem as opposed to a meat cleaver,” he explains.

Many people see air pollution as Utah’s biggest quality of life problem.

Kathy Van Dame is the citizen representative on the Air Quality Board and a member of Breathe Utah. She’s a longtime clean-air activist who’s happy to see such a big investment in cleaning up the air.

“One of the things that has been very frustrating for folks is that they want to know what will really work,” she says. “This research, I think, is really critical for us getting a handle on things really will make a difference.”

Research teams include the University of Utah, Weber State, Utah State and Brigham Young University.

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