Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Health, Science & Environment

Utah Has Bad News, And Good, On Smog

KUER File Photo
Salt Lake City has logged 13 days this summer when ozone pollution -- which can harm even healthy people -- has reached levels deemed unhealthy by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A cleanup plan could be next.

Northern Utah has had more high ozone days this summer than it did in the past few years. That was the gist of the summary that Bo Call gave while speaking Wednesday at Utah’s Air Quality Board meeting.

“Looking at the last four or five years it's really been quite higher” this year, said Call, who oversees the state’s air-pollution monitoring. “We were [logging] 13 and 14 days of violations so far at some of our sites.”

Call said cloudiness in the past few years has helped block the sun, an essential ingredient in cooking up ozone pollution. Hot and sunny weather this year meant more afternoons with dirty air.

Then Call took a long view of the data. He looked back to the beginning of the state’s ozone records in 1975 and checked those readings against current federal limits.

“And comparing that to 70 parts per billion,” he said, “the most days that we would have exceeded the standard at a monitoring station was 56.”

The year was 1980 at the downtown Salt Lake City pollution monitor, and it was four times as many unhealthy ozone days.

Call also said smoggy afternoons today aren’t as polluted as they generally used to be.

“And that's pretty good too,” he said, “because that shows that our levels aren't getting, aren't getting as high even when we exceed. They're still staying lower.”

Bryce Bird, director of Utah’s air-quality division, piped up with his own observation.

“The Clean Air Act worked,” he said, “and it's still working.

“It’s working,” Call agreed, noting that ozone pollution cleanup strategies have succeeded.

Now the big question is whether the Trump administration will ask Utah to do even more. State regulators are awaiting word from the Environmental Protection Agency this fall on whether the DAQ should start drawing up new cleanup plans for ozone in the Uinta Basin and on the Wasatch Front.

KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.