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We've Got the December Bad Air Blues

The view from the SLCgreen office on Dec. 4, 2019.

With a week of air that has been some of the worst in the country, it’s no wonder we’re all feeling frustrated. Salt Lake City’s current air quality is unhealthy for sensitive groups and requires mandatory action of limited driving and no wood burning. For most of us, Salt Lake City’s notoriously bad air is a nuisance and health concern, limiting our activities and turning our skyline grey. Moreover, pollutants like PM 2.5 are dangerous, especially for older residents, children, pregnant women, and people with respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. Air quality is a public health concern, as well as an economic one.

It may come as a surprise that although transportation currently contributes nearly half of the emissions causing Salt Lake City’s bad air, buildings are catching up. Indeed, houses and buildings currently contribute roughly 38% of emissions, and industry point sources produce the other 13%. As emissions standards on cars are becoming more strict, managing emissions from houses and buildings is a growing priority.

PM 2.5 is the primary winter concern in Salt Lake City’s airshed. The particulate matter poses serious health risks and gets trapped in the Salt Lake valley during inversion. Most of the PM 2.5 is a direct result of precursor emissions from tailpipes, smokestacks, and chemicals that mix to form PM 2.5 in the atmosphere.

When you look outside, it may feel like there’s no good news. However, per capita pollution in Utah is decreasing. Salt Lake City is taking steps to help clean the air and protect our public health and environment. Find out how you can keep our airshed (and lungs!) clean and healthy.

What is SLC doing?

Reducing combustion and emissions are a key step towards cleaning the air.

Salt Lake City has many air quality initiatives in place that are helping clean the air. Among these include the continued expansion of EV infrastructure, expanding cleaner vehicles in our fleet, and implementing our energy benchmarking ordinance for nearly 1,000 commercial buildings. Additionally, the HIVE pass provides residents with access to UTA’s public transit system at a reduced cost.

Salt Lake City built the nation’s first Net Zero energy Public Safety Building.
In 2018, Salt Lake City converted five parking enforcement vehicles to all-electric Chevy Bolts. As of Oct. 2019, the Salt Lake City fleet has over 135 hybrids, 32 all-electric vehicles, 72 compressed natural gas heavy duty vehicles, and 117 clean diesel heavy duty vehicles.

Although Salt Lake City doesn’t have a regulatory role (that comes from the State of Utah, the EPA, and county health departments), we work to create strong policy in all the arenas we can.

Another bright spot this spring was the passage of the Community Renewable Energy Act. As a result, Salt Lake City and other communities have been able to continue to work with Rocky Mountain Power towards our goal of transitioning the entire community to net-100% clean electricity by 2030.

Be Part of the Solution

There are many ways to help reduce pollution, and even small actions can help make a big impact.

Driving less is a key step in curbing your pollution. If you do need to drive, keep in mind that idling your car for even 10 seconds you can use more fuel than if you turned your car off and restarted it. Idling for more than two minutes is not only against our city ordinance, but can use as much fuel as it takes to drive one mile!

Other ways to reduce air pollution at home include respecting the burn restrictions and lowering your thermostat 2 degrees.

Stay Healthy

While we all work together to clean the air and reduce pollution, it is important to protect yourself from particulates. Check the air quality forecast and stay inside on bad air days. PM 2.5 is especially dangerous because it can get into our lungs and cardiovascular systems. If you do go outside, use an N95 or higher-rated mask.

More health related resources can be found at the UCAIR website and on Intermountain Healthcare’s website.

While the Wasatch Front valleys will always experience weather patterns that trap pollution, we can all take action to minimize exposure and reduce our emissions.

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