Guest editorial: Speaking from experience, Parkite says clean air is a matter of life and breath | ParkRecord.com

Guest editorial: Speaking from experience, Parkite says clean air is a matter of life and breath

Steve Lewis
Park City

It's inversion time again. The toxic soup of ozone, nitrous oxide, and particulates we breathe on the Wasatch Front is much more than an ugly eyesore. Breathing it can be deadly, especially if you live or work near the freeway, or other sources of concentrated toxins.

After 45-plus years of full-time work, just two months before I'd planned to retire, I was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (a.k.a. IPF). What IPF means to me is that I'm now hooked to an oxygen tank 24-7. Without a lung transplant, I have a year or two left to live, while my lungs gradually fill with fibrosis, and cease to function.

"Idiopathic" means my pulmonologist can't be sure what caused it. But I think I know. I spent most of my working life in a building under the I-15 5th South on-ramp. While I was an active road biker, and runner, and never smoked, with that extra exposure, added to the background of toxins we all breathe, it became a sentence to an early, and ugly death. If just breathing this polluted air ruined my lungs, it has certainly happened to others, and will to many more. If you live here, you and your children are at risk for the same life threatening respiratory diseases. Higher risks than you know.

Large concentrations of population define our "advanced civilization." The rapid improvement in living standards over the last century was made possible by abundant, low cost fossil fuel. But we are paying a hidden cost in our health.

I'm paying it now, as are the many thousands of Utahns who have unnecessary respiratory illnesses. The cost of our health care is huge. And nothing can buy back the years of lives cut short. Ignorance is no longer a valid excuse. Nor is the presumption that our future prosperity depends upon fossil fuels. Every dollar we spend monitoring, and mitigating the health impacts of air pollution is a hidden subsidy to the fossil fuel sources of pollution. Whatever the cost of breathing healthy air, it is time to stop socializing it, and shift it back to the sources of pollution.

Air pollution will not fix itself. Our legislators apparently still don't get it. Just two years ago they passed a law that no Utah air quality regulation could be more restrictive than the EPA's. Worse still, recent studies say that EPA standards are not yet tough enough to ensure healthy air.

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The Wasatch Front, Cache Valley, and Uintah Basin are natural pollution traps. Geography and weather cause inversions. Population and its emissions fill them with pollution. We can't move our mountains, change the weather, or stop Utah's population from growing. The only option is reducing polluting emissions, as aggressively as we can. It's time to stand up and scream until your lungs hurt, and our legislators finally put on their big-boy & girl pants, and pass the toughest anti-pollution regulations they can write.

There are over three million sources of pollution in Utah, including you and me. There is no magic bullet, but there are hundreds of effective ways to help. Every bike or transit ride, every new solar panel, wind turbine, and e-car makes a difference. Force all industrial polluters to use state-of-the-art technology to limit emissions. Building codes must require efficient energy use, and add tax rewards for owners who retrofit older buildings. It's just the start of a long list.

This isn't a theory, and it's not somebody else's problem.

Trust me, it's a matter of life and breath for all of us.