There was a time, not long ago, when Tooele County could boast that it had some of the best air to breathe not far from the populated and polluted Wasatch Front.
It appears those days are gone, and not just during dreadful winter temperature inversions when Tooele Valley fills with thick smog laced with harmful particulates called PM 2.5s.
As you couldn’t help but notice during the past several weeks, and especially last week when the Stansbury Mountains were almost entirely obscured, the county’s summer air quality isn’t so pristine, either. But this time the culprit is ozone, the stuff that’s produced from air pollution that undergoes prolonged sun exposure. Ozone constricts the lungs’ airways and makes life miserable for asthmatics and others who suffer from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
As reported in last Tuesday’s front-page story, “Ozone pollution fills Tooele Valley with nasty air,” Bo Call, an air monitoring manager with the Utah Division of Air Quality, said Tooele Valley’s air quality this summer hasn’t been this bad since 2008.
He cited the lack of frequent summer rainstorms to clear the air, and few clouds to block the sun from producing ozone, as contributors to the problem. Another has been wildfires in adjacent states that have blown smoke into northern Utah .
Smoke from elsewhere seems to be a major source of the county’s diminishing air quality. According to Call, fouled air from the Wasatch Front spews across Great Salt Lake this time of year and “cooks” under the sun, producing ozone. With a northerly breeze, the gunk is blown into Tooele Valley — and our lungs.
Call also said ozone levels for the valley in July exceeded the national standard 13 times, while monitors in Salt Lake City and another in Bountiful exceeded the standard 14 times. The national standard for ground-level ozone by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is 70 parts per billion.
Those numbers are hard to ignore. So, too, is this observation: According to Call, an estimated 55 percent of local air pollution is caused by vehicles, and about 30 percent from area sources like homes. Industry creates about 15 percent of the pollution, he said.
With an estimated 55 percent of local air pollution caused by vehicles, and Tooele County’s high and growing number of commuters driving every day to the Wasatch Front for work, smoke-from-elsewhere may soon be replaced by smoke-from-here as the number one cause of diminishing local air quality.
Tooele Valley is already labeled as a nonattainment area for PM 2.5s, and is being reviewed by the EPA as a possible nonattainment area for ozone. Nonattainment means the air quality of an area does not meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
Over the past few years, we’ve reported and editorialized on local air quality, trying to inform readers about a growing problem that shouldn’t be ignored. We’ve also urged that local officials and citizens become part of the state dialogue to help make sure that a balance is hopefully achieved between vehicles, industry, population and health.
One thing is certain: Solutions likely won’t come quickly, cheaply or conveniently. Yet still, they must be pursued for the sake of good health for all.