Air testing underway in Park City | ParkRecord.com

Air testing underway in Park City

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

High pressure above Salt Lake City is pushing air pollution up Parleys Canyon from the Wasatch Front.

In the midst of a weather inversion, the Park City chapter of Utah Moms for Clean Air is concerned Parkites are breathing the same yellowish muck tainting Salt Lake valley skies.

The group’s local chapter is co-chaired by Parkite Kathy Lofft who described polluted air she saw while driving to Salt Lake City Sunday.

"We drove down around noon and we noticed that the inversion had actually started creeping up [Parleys] Canyon to about the point of the Mountain Dell golf course," Lofft said in a telephone interview. "We pop out the mouth of the canyon and you could not see the Oquirrh range on the other side of the valley. You literally could not tell there were mountains there."

But driving home that afternoon was even scarier, she explained.

"That inversion coupled with the increasing inversion-creep up Parleys Canyon, I don’t think we can really ignore anymore what is going on in the Salt Lake valley in terms of its impact on our air quality," Lofft said. "The inversion had actually crept up, and the leading edge of it was at the green highway sign that says ‘Parleys Summit a half a mile.’"

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Two monitors were made operational this month to test air quality in western Summit County.

"We don’t want to wake up one day and say, ‘Gee, our air’s bad, how did that happen?’" said Bob Swenson, director of environmental health at the Summit County Health Department.

But significant air-quality testing in Summit County hasn’t been conducted, he said, adding that new equipment will provide that needed baseline data.

"We’ll run them year-round," Swenson said, about monitors staged near McPolin Elementary School and Old Ranch Road. "If we start now, then we can see if it’s getting better or getting worse It gives us some forewarning."

Because pollution is often highest during weather inversions, Swenson said the winter is an effective time to test air quality.

"That’s when it traps the air in the valleys," Swenson said.

Dangerous microscopic particles of soot and dust, which stoves, combustion engines and coal-fired power plants emit, make up the pollutants.

"With this high pressure system that’s now sitting over the Salt Lake valley and our area, that’s the thing that typically produces the wintertime heavy inversions that make the air quality very, very poor," Lofft said.

Officials at the Utah Division of Air Quality began collecting data in western Summit County last winter. But the pollution never exceeded requirements the Environmental Protection Agency defines.

However, last fall Summit County used about $50,000 to purchase its own air monitors.

"We’ve got control of what’s going on now," Swenson said. "We can get our own information and we don’t have to rely on anybody else."

Before any results are analyzed, the machines will likely operate for at least 60 days, Swenson said.

"Once we get a baseline, then we can take one and move it someplace else because they’re mobile," Swenson said.

Meanwhile, the Division of Air Quality determined recently that the chemical makeup of pollution in Summit County is similar to chemicals in the air in Salt Lake, Lofft said.

"It is absolutely toxic and really disgusting," she said. "They measured the chemical composition of the non-organic compounds in the air. What they said was that the chemical makeup of the pollutants that they had measured in our air was very similar to what they were finding in the Salt Lake valley. But we don’t have the heavy industry up here that the Salt Lake valley has."