There was a time when we could proudly say, “Come to Tooele Valley. The air is way better here than in Salt Lake.”
Not any more.
Last Thursday, we published our final installment of a four-part series on air quality in Tooele County. With several days of January choked by some of the worst winter air seen here yet, the series was both compelling and timely. Here is a rundown of facts and perceptions the series covered while explaining why our local air is at times unhealthy to breathe.
• Because a major portion of the county’s workforce (nearly 50 percent) commutes to Salt Lake County for employment, the Environmental Protection Agency has deemed populous areas of Tooele Valley as a nonattainment area — an area that fails to meet EPA air quality standards. As a result, those areas of the valley are subject to the same regulations intended to curb emissions in Salt Lake County.
• According to the Utah Division of Air Quality, vehicles are the single largest contributor of air pollution in Salt Lake and Tooele valleys. Each vehicle doesn’t emit a lot, but thousands of them make vehicles the leading source. Although Tooele Valley is less populated than Salt Lake Valley, the number of cars and miles driven by residents are significant. According to statistics from the Utah Department of Transportation, residents drove a combined average of 2.25 million miles per day in 2012. That totals nearly 1 billion miles for the year.
• The state has enacted 23 regulations to curb air pollution by 2019 in Salt Lake and Tooele valleys. One of the regulations includes air monitoring. A single air monitoring station has existed in Tooele City since 2007. Another regulation prohibits Tooele Valley residents from burning solid fuels when local concentrations of PM 2.5 pollution hit unhealthy levels. Although few locals are aware, the state monitors the area for compliance during mandatory no-burn periods, using infrared cameras that detect solid fuel burning indoors. Fines for noncompliance can range from $25 to $300.
• According to the county’s health department, a recent community health survey revealed that air quality is a major concern of residents. Yet, residents’ choices and habits affect the concentrations of harmful pollutants in the air — and time will tell if they’re willing to change those choices and habits. A good place to start is to minimize vehicle usage. While driving fewer miles helps to reduce air pollution, the goal is to consolidate trips, because the majority of emissions are produced during a vehicle’s cold-start cycle.
Although the state added Tooele Valley to its mandatory no burn-day list last November, it still seems hard to believe that Tooele Valley’s air quality has been lumped in with Salt Lake Valley by the EPA. Yet, based on known science and accumulating data, the air here isn’t what it used to be. How serious is all this? Try this for a bottom line: The average human being can go about three weeks without food, and about three days without water.
And without air? Only minutes.