At the same time the State Legislature is taking on a seemingly record number of bills addressing the worsening air quality in the Wasatch Front, Summit County is taking steps to ensure that it does all it can to secure its air quality is maintained.
Summit County Health Dept. Director Richard Bullough said he is pleased with the 15 or so bills related to air quality that have already been numbered in the State Legislature. The potential impact of the notorious Salt Lake Valley inversion on tourism has piqued the interest of conservative lawmakers to address air quality, he said.
"[Air quality] is not just an environmental issue, it's an economic issue," Bullough said. "That's one of the reasons it's gotten so much attention [from] the Legislature."
Bullough said Summit County is an "island of good air" at this point in time but that we do have our own air quality issues, especially with ozone levels during the summer. Levels of ozone as well as PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) are already being monitored in Coalville and Park City.
"I get calls virtually every week from individuals and groups asking, 'Is it safe to come here for vacation?'" Bullough said. "When the inversions make national news, most of the people coming here don't differentiate between Salt Lake and Summit County."
As per regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Summit County cannot implement an emissions testing program. To compensate, the Health Dept. is trying to educate residents about the importance of 'Check Engine' lights, which almost always indicate there is an emission problem with a vehicle.
They will be encouraging mechanics to tell customers why addressing an emission problem is important as well as explaining why consumers need to pay attention to their 'Check Engine' light, which can mean a problem with the oxygen sensor or catalytic converter.
"It can cost $300 to $500 to get a 'Check Engine' light problem fixed, but the car will run cleaner and your mileage will go up," Bullough said.
Residents can now look at real-time ozone levels on the Health Department's website. PM2.5 levels will come online soon. Bullough sees his department eventually issuing ozone advisories during the summer, to encourage those recreating to do so during lower ozone levels.
Last summer, there were some ozone readings between 70 and 76 parts-per-billion. The EPA standard is 75 ppb, but Bullough said there may be concerns in the county if that standard is lowered. There are some health effects with levels around 65 ppb, he added.
"Ozone is a pro-oxidant, so it oxidizes tissue," Bullough said. "In particular, it's harmful to lung tissue."
Some of the ozone in the county drifts in from elsewhere, but a great amount is also produced in Summit County, Bullough said. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from vehicles and wood-burning stoves contribute to the ozone problem, as do plants such as gamble oak and aspen.
This summer, the Health Dept. will create a Clean Air Task Force, comprised of both professionals and community members, to look at what air quality issues are of concern and how to address them.
Despite the fact that many in the county may see the Salt Lake area as the main cause of pollution, Bullough stressed cooperative efforts as key to addressing air quality problems facing the region.
"Don't just blame [pollution] on someone else, acknowledge that the problem is partially your fault and move forward [with a solution]," Bullough said.
To view real-time ozone levels, visit summitcountyhealth.org and under 'Residents,' click 'Outdoor Air Quality.'