Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah
image Fixing the pollution problem in Tooele County won’t be simple because the biggest culprits are homes and automobiles.

January 28, 2014
No easy fixes to cleaning local air quality

Residents having tough time complying with new ‘No burn days’ requirements 

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles on air quality in Tooele County.

A problem as complex as Utah’s inversion-influenced air pollution is not one to be remedied with a quick fix.

A big part of that complex problem is what scientists refer to as Utah’s top pollution contributors, or “area sources”- — such as cars and homes. Both are contributors that cannot be addressed with the quick removal of a single point source, like an industrial smoke stack.

The state has enacted a series of 23 rules and regulations to curb air pollution by 2019, but not every rule included in the State Implementation Plan for the Salt Lake and Tooele nonattainment area — an area that according to the EPA exceeds federal standards for pollution — impacts Tooele County residents.

The rules that do apply include an air monitoring mandate, which went into effect in 2007 shortly after the Environmental Protection Agency included Tooele Valley in Salt Lake Valley’s nonattainment area. Monitoring not only provides the state with historical and up-to-date information about Tooele County’s air quality, but also allows the Utah Division of Air Quality to provide the colored air forecasts that help sensitive populations protect themselves.

Tooele County currently has a single air monitoring station, which is located in a residential neighborhood not far from the Tooele County Health Department. The location of a monitoring station is critical, said Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality, because the monitors are expected to reflect the air conditions people in a given area will actually encounter. Consequently, the division chose to place the monitoring station in what it considered as Tooele’s urban center, he added.

In addition to the essential service they provide for citizens who are directly impacted by poor air quality, air quality forecasts have nearly universal application in a nonattainment area. For example, in Tooele County, as in Salt Lake County, residents need to check the air quality forecast if they plan to enjoy their wood-burning stove or fireplace that night, said Bill Reiss, a Division of Air Quality engineer who headed the creation of Utah’s implementation plan.

Residents who live within the designated nonattainment area are prohibited from burning solid fuels — including wood, wood pellets coal and charcoal — indoors or outdoors when local concentrations of PM 2.5 pollution build up to unhealthy levels.

The Division of Air Quality issues one of three action levels every day between Nov. 1 and March 1. Monday, for example, was a mandatory no-burn day. Others may be designated “unrestricted” or “voluntary” action days, according to pollution levels detected by the station in downtown Tooele.

The Division of Air Quality does monitor the area for compliance during mandatory no-burn periods, Reiss said. The division uses infrared cameras to detect solid fuel burning indoors. Fines for noncompliance can range from $25 to $300.

The Division of Air Quality is also working with local health departments to supplement the division’s monitoring, and will respond to resident complaints as necessary.

While mandatory no-burn days are a matter of routine in Salt Lake County, Reiss said they have seen more trouble with compliance in Tooele County, where official action days and prohibitions went into effect for the first time last November.

“We’ve been doing this for so long on the Wasatch Front that we have people trained,” he said, but it may take residents in Tooele some time to adjust.

For first-time offenders who are caught unaware of the new rule, there is an option to attend a Division of Air Quality seminar on pollution instead of paying the fine.

Other regulations, most of which are aimed at curbing emissions by small businesses, have a smaller impact on residents, Reiss said. These rules may limit the amount of volatile organic compounds, a broad spectrum of chemicals that contribute heavily to the creation of PM 2.5 in Utah, that a single business may output.

Such restrictions will apply to enterprises involving coatings, painting, printing or cleaning or degreasing with solvents. Another rule that requires restaurants to install scrubbers on all commercial charbroilers is even more narrowly tailored. It will mostly apply to Burger Kings, Reiss said.

However, other recent rules passed by the Division of Air Quality will not apply to the Tooele area. Unlike Salt Lake motorists, Tooele drivers will not be required to comply with new requirements for emissions tests, Reiss said. Even though Tooele commuters drive some 2.25 million miles every day, the division felt mandatory testing in Tooele wasn’t worth the cost.

“By the time you get here, the number of vehicles that you send make up a very small percentage of the total traffic,” he said.

The State Implementation Plan is primarily geared toward curbing pollution in Salt Lake Valley, Reiss explained. Tooele was included in the area because of the large number of residents who commute into the Salt Lake area for work, but the division has tried to selectively apply rules where they will best meet the 2019 goal.

Likewise, there are currently few if any plans to expand public transportation to and from Tooele to help lessen auto emissions.

“Where there’s lots of space between Tooele City and Salt Lake, it becomes economically difficult” to provide public transportation to the area, Reiss said.

Emma Penrod

Staff Writer at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Emma Penrod is a staff writer for the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin and covers Tooele City government, religion, health, the environment, ethnic issues and public infrastructure. A Tooele native, Penrod graduated from Tooele High School in 2010. She holds an associates degree from Utah State University, and a bachelor’s degree in communications from Brigham Young University. She worked for the newspaper as a high school intern starting in 2008. In 2010 she began working full-time in the newsroom until she left for college later that year. While at BYU, Penrod worked as a writer and editor for a small health magazine in Utah County. She interned with The Riverdale Press, a community newspaper in the Bronx, NY and with the Deseret News. She is also the author of two non-fiction books.

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