Earlier this spring we experienced a period of clean air due to lock-downs put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, Salt Lake City’s summer air quality has been recently impacted by smoke from nearby and regional wildfires, as well as from higher ozone pollution that is typical in the summer.
Bad air quality threatens everyone’s health, particularly those with sensitive respiratory systems. The effects of bad air even have the potential to make COVID-19 even worse.Your lungs are already irritated and inflamed due to pollution, and this makes them more susceptible to infections like COVID.
Ironically, the pandemic – coupled with rising temperatures caused by climate change – are also behind the record number of human-caused fires in Utah. The feedback loop linking pandemic, fires, and bad air is disturbing, but there are ways we can take actions to help protect the air.
Are you ready for a new challenge? How about one that will help you save money, burn calories, and improve our air quality? Salt Lake City employees are already on board and want to invite you to join the 2020 Clear the Air Challenge. During the month of February, keep our air clear of pollutants by limiting your driving!
You can aim to reduce your “driving-alone” trips every day in February, or pick a goal that’s manageable for you. It all helps!
Since 2009, Utahns have been participating in the month-long Clear the Air Challenge. During February, when air quality in Utah is historically bad, participants track their trips with the goal of avoiding single-occupancy vehicle travel and reducing air pollution. Participantscarpool, bike, walk, telecommute, trip chain, take public transit, drive electric vehicles, and ride electric bikes or scooters– all to help clear the air!
In 2019, participants in the Clear the Air Challenge eliminated 84,421 single-occupancy vehicle trips. This saved 1,244,624 miles of traveling and $0.4 Million! Together, all these efforts reduced 359.8 tons of CO2!
This year, the Clear the Air Challenge needs everyone’s help to reach the goal of eliminating 100,000 single-occupant trips.
Clear the Air to Protect Our Health
Winters in Utah can be beautiful, but when inversion starts, polluted air gets caught in our valleys. PM 2.5 and other pollutants threaten our health the well-being of our communities.
On bad air days, our activity is limited. Moreover, children, older adults, and people with heart diseases or respiratory problems are at a higher risk for suffering from poorer health due to bad air. Poor air quality is associated with a range of negative impacts including pregnancy loss, premature death, child asthma, and increased cases of pneumonia.
In Salt Lake City, nearly 50% of air pollution comes from cars, trucks, and other vehicles. That’s why the Clear the Air Challenge is more important than ever.
Each participating department has its own team. Salt Lake City employees live all over the Wasatch Front. Many of us take public transit to work every day. Others carpool or bike. For the month of February, we’re doing all we can to cut back on our single occupancy car rides!
Thanks to the recent public transit expansions, the robust network of bike paths for the sunny days, as well as the Clear the Air Challenge app’s handy carpool guide, the Clear the Air Challenge will make February an exciting and competitive month!
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.
Winter is coming. And along with it, inversion season. As temperature and pressure changes trap pollutants in the Salt Lake Valley, it is an important time to recommit to reducing our impact.
Air pollution in general is extremely costly in terms of public health and our economy. In the U.S., we spend $131 billion in air quality-related damages each year. The costs to our well-being are enormous. Bad air is linked to asthma, pneumonia, pregnancy loss, and premature death.
Luckily, expansions to our public transportation infrastructure are making it even easier to leave your car at home and help clear the air.
Public Transit Expansions
One way to avoid driving is to make use of public transit.
The bus route expansions are among several enhancements made possible through the Funding our Futures income (comprised of a sales tax increase, passed by the City Council, and a bond, approved by Salt Lake City voters, in 2018.)
Hear us out: You’ve heard that a big chunk– roughly 50 percent — of Salt Lake City’s winter air pollution comes from motor vehicles.
That’s why SLCgreen promotes cleaner transportation and getting out of our cars as much as possible, particularly during February and the Clear the Air Challenge.
But, we know that taking public transit, biking, or purchasing an electric vehicle is not practical for everyone – yet! However, there are some important ways to reduce pollution even when you do drive.
We all want to take better care of our health and live in a healthy world and by planning ahead we can help our city have fewer red air days! Here’s how:
Avoid Cold Starts. Cold starts occur when we start our vehicles after they have been resting long enough for the engine to get cold.
Did you know? A majority of the air pollutants used across an entire journey are emitted in the first few minutes after you start your car.
A study from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality “found that 75 percent of combined pollutants and emissions are emitted from a car during the first three minutes after a cold start,” as described in a UCAIR’s blog post and video below.
We’re all used to winter smog here along the Wasatch Front, with brown haze moving in and obscuring the mountains. But there is another pollutant in the valley, invisible but no less dangerous — ozone.
What is Ozone?
Ozone, a molecule consisting of three oxygen atoms, is created when nitrogen oxide (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) mix and are heated by the sunlight.
NOx and VOCs are typically emitted by motor vehicles, but they can come from consumer products as well as industrial sources. (Read more about how ozone forms.)
Ozone is often found in the Earth’s stratosphere, where it plays a beneficial role by protecting us from damaging rays. But when ozone sits in the atmosphere where we can breathe it in, it can be very damaging to our health.
During the holiday rush, sustainability may not be the first thing on your mind. Fortunately, there are a number of measures you can take to ensure your festivities are more eco-friendly and sustainable.
We’ve compiled these actions into a convenient Green Holiday Guide. No matter how you celebrate, we at SLCgreen hope you find this information helpful and wish you the best of times and a very happy New Year!
One great option for your home Christmas tree is a live native potted tree. When you’re done with it, plant it after the holidays or let it live on as a house plant. As an added bonus, a live tree will absorb carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen for cleaner air.
Check with your local nursery or garden center for advice on the best type of tree, depending if you are planning to replant or keep it inside. If you can, hold off and plant it in late March or early April. This will increase the tree’s chance of surviving long term.
If you go for a cut tree, use the compost bin to dispose of it after the holidays. Make sure to cut it up so it fits in the bin and remove any tinsel or non-organic decorations (Just be sure to dispose of it before the wintertime suspension of compost bin collection, beginning the week of January 22, 2018).
If you can’t cut up your tree for the compost bin, no problem. Leave it curbside and we’ll be by during the month of January to collect it.
When stringing up lights this season, think “less is more.” For the lights you do put up, go for LED lights, which are 80-95% more efficient than traditional bulbs and will last longer. (This is a good reminder to switch out any other traditional light bulbs you may have in your home for LEDs too!)
LED lights look great on me!
Make sure you have your lights on a timer so they only are on when you want them to be. Some LED Christmas lights are even solar powered! Read more
Here’s another example from our friends to the south: Provo’s Clean Air Toolkit.
In 2014, Provo was awarded a grant by Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR) to pursue this project. The toolkit’s goal is to present local residents and businesses with a centralized list of strategies they can use to achieve cleaner air in Utah County, and to make clean air the common goal of Provo City’s strategic planning and operations.
You can check it out at www.provocleanair.org. As you’ll see, it offers a comprehensive guide for individuals, businesses, and municipalities to use to reduce air pollutants, as well as helpful statistics and infographics detailing projections for air quality over the next few decades.
The goal: Get more EV’s on the road to promote cleaner air.
The how: By spreading the word about the limited-time bulk discounts available through the University of Utah’s innovative program.
Over the course of September and October, we worked with the U. and Utah Clean Energy to speak with hundreds of people about what “going electric” really means– including how cost-effective owning an electric vehicle is.
Now that this round has wrapped up, we’re excited to announce that 127 electric vehicles were purchased through U Drive Electric II!
When combined with Round I there are now over 200 new electric vehicles on the road thanks to U Drive Electric. These new EV owners have taken an important step towards improving air quality along the Wasatch Front.
Electric vehicles produce up to 99% less of the criteria air pollutants that cause bad air quality. With winter inversion season upon us it’s easy to see the importance of driving electric.
Furthermore, the EVs purchased through U Drive Electric will significantly reduce green house gas emissions. The carbon dioxide avoided over the next five years is equivalent to not burning nearly 2 million pounds of coal, or 200,000 gallons of gasoline.
Put another way, this is like switching 63,000 incandescent bulbs to LEDs, or the equivalent amount of carbon sequestered by 1,700 acres of forest in one year.
Testimonials from U Drive Electric participants can be found at utahev.org