You could see the brown and gray smog begin to creep up from the Great Salt Lake into Tooele Valley in early December. By Dec. 6, Tooele County residents, along with the rest of the Wasatch Front, were under a no-burn order by the Utah Division of Air Quality because the level of airborne hazardous particulates exceeded allowable levels.
The order, which lasted for more than a week, meant all solid fuel burning devices could not be used in Tooele County, including wood burning stoves — unless the stove is the residence’s only heat source and the homeowner has it registered with the state. Open burning was also prohibited, which included outdoor fire pits, fire rings, campfires, charcoal grills and smokers. The public was also urged to reduce vehicle emissions by consolidating trips.
Residents who choose not to comply with a no-burn order face a possible fine of $150 for the first violation. Additional violations may be subject to penalties of $299.
More importantly, the order also meant that citizens, who fall into the health category of “sensitive,” were advised to limit their exposure to outside air. The air was simply that bad.
It seems now that whenever a strong ridge of high pressure settles over northern Utah and creates a temperature inversion, Tooele and Rush valleys experience eroding air quality along with the Wasatch Front. If this winter plays out to have few storms and lots of inversions, it is probable more no-burn orders from the state are on the horizon.
And that is regrettable. Which begs the question: What can be done about it? But more specifically, what should everyone be doing about it?
Over the past few years, we’ve published editorials that have urged local citizens to comply with the state’s no-burn orders. But we’ve also questioned the efficacy of such no-burn orders when, according to the DAQ, solid-fuel burning makes up about 6 percent of the Wasatch Front’s air pollution during inversions, yet vehicles and other mobile sources account for 48 percent.
That 48 percent takes on even more significance with an estimated 50 percent of Tooele County’s available workforce commuting to the Wasatch Front every day. With that said, restricting solid fuel burning November to March may create only negligible results; the more important initiative is to address vehicle emissions.
With residential and commercial growth expected to continue in Tooele Valley, and more daily commuters as well, vehicle emissions — not wood burning stoves — may present a larger air quality concern that must be addressed more aggressively.
But in the meantime, there is something all of us can do to help reduce the direct health hazards caused by bad air. First of all, check the air quality index that is viewable every day on air.utah.gov or on tooelehealth.org. The index lets you know quickly and easily the condition of local air quality.
Next, visit the Utah Clean Air website at ucair.org. It provides information on what people can do at home, work and in the community to reduce emissions. Remedial action by one citizen may not make much of a difference, but action taken by thousands of citizens certainly will.