The Park Record editorial, July 7-10, 2012 |

The Park Record editorial, July 7-10, 2012

Smoky skies offer valuable science lesson

When a plume of brown smoke appeared over the ridgeline in Park City Tuesday afternoon, everyone was alarmed. The smell confirmed it was a wildfire and many assumed it was close by.

But as the ash began to fall in Old Town and the sky darkened, we learned the source was in the city of Alpine, on the other side of the Wasatch Mountains.

In addition to fanning our fears about the possibility of a local wildfire, the smoky haze offered a sobering glimpse of how interrelated our communities are in terms of air quality.

While many Parkites might be hard pressed to locate Alpine on a map, the smoke billowing up to the south of Salt Lake City had no trouble finding its way up and over Guardsman Pass.

The smoke’s pervasiveness on Tuesday raises questions about what other kinds of invisible pollutants are drifting around northern Utah year-round. If nothing else, the murky smokestorm proved, once again, that we are all stuck in the same laboratory beaker and what is emitted into the atmosphere in Utah County will usually end up traveling through Summit County.

That is no surprise to Utah’s Department of Air Quality, which recently decided to place additional air-quality monitors in Summit County. Data collected last year indicated that ground ozone levels in Summit County were approaching those found in Salt Lake City and were significant enough to merit further study. According to the department, ground ozone pollutants can cause lung-tissue damage, especially among children.

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For a community that considers its environment to be relatively pristine, the comparison to Salt Lake City, which has serious air quality issues, is somewhat of an affront.

In an effort to pin down the problem, the department is planning to install monitors in various locations around the county including downtown Park City, Snyderville and Kamas. It is likely that the evidence will show that while some of the offending particulates may come from outside the county, plenty is generated by local residents too.

The smoke has since cleared, but it would be smart if Utah residents and their elected officials keep in mind the lessons learned from this summer’s smoky skies. Our kids are depending on us to work together to keep their air safe and clean, whether we live in the city or the mountains.