Summit County Air Quality is a mystery
July 26, 2006
With health advisories popping up throughout the state and the nation concerning hazardous air quality, do Summit County residents have cause for concern?
What are the air quality levels in Summit County? Does anyone know?
The consensus seems to be that the air here is clean, but no one knows how clean or how close Summit County’s air comes to exceeding the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
"I’ve kind of wondered that too," said Park City Mayor Dana Williams about air quality levels and measurements in Summit County.
"I think we’re in good shape," said Summit County Health Department Director Steve Jenkins. He noted that the county has looked into requiring emissions tests for vehicles, but so far has not implemented an emissions testing program because there is no evidence that the air quality levels in Summit County exceed the EPA standards.
Jenkins couldn’t say what the current air quality levels are, however, because he has no record of them.
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"We have good air quality in Summit County," he said. "When the air quality goes bad, you’ll know about it."
But how will the residents know whether air quality levels are dangerous if no one is monitoring them?
The Utah Department of Air Quality (DAQ) has a monitoring center that monitors air quality levels along the Wasatch Front. The center does not currently have a monitoring site in Summit County, however.
DAQ Public Information Officer Donna Spangler insists that establishing a monitoring site in Summit County is one of the state’s goals. Summit County’s air is assumed to be clean, she said, partly because of the county’s topography.
Bob Dalley, manager of the monitoring center, said several calculations go into deciding whether or not a county is in danger of exceeding the NAAQS. Each year, the Utah Division of Air Quality produces an annual report that identifies the inventory of criteria pollutants in all of the counties in Utah.
The pollutants are carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone (ground level), particulate matter (dust, smoke, soot), sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or smog-formers.
The center compiles information submitted by industrial and commercial sources detailing how much potentially hazardous material they handle and also the amount of hazardous pollutants they emit, said Dalley.
Additionally, said Dalley, individual counties keep track of how many vehicles are registered in their areas, and the center takes that into consideration as well.
If a county’s emissions inventory looks high or if a county has a significant increase in population, the center would then step in and implement procedures to keep air pollutant levels down, said Dalley.
The center also uses computer modeling to calculate air pollution levels, said Dalley.
Williams, a strong supporter of environmental initiatives, noted that the county has signed on to the Kyoto Accords, which is an environmental policy aimed at reducing current pollution levels to those of previous years. He also noted, however, that Summit County does not have any previous levels on record to compare with current levels. Summit County’s small population is probably a factor in its air quality, he said. Other counties have much higher populations and concentrations of people, he said.
For information about air quality and air monitoring in Utah visit these Web sites: