Guest opinion: Burn Smart program aims to improve air quality in Summit County
Burn Smart outreach intern
Growing up I was always fascinated with nature. Whether it was by collecting rocks on my way home from school, watching the leaves of Aspen trees dance to a steady breeze, inspecting newly formed dew drops delicately placed on woody shrubs, or relaxing on my grandmother’s porch while listening to the pitter-patter of raindrops. Nature was something clearly special to admire, and my older sister and I would express our admiration by spending countless hours outside entertaining our curiosity and enriching our senses. But just as the rocks I stored in my school backpack began to slow me down, my sister too began to slow down, but not by the weight of rocks.
In 2007, my sister was admitted into the hospital for an infection in her lungs due to exposure to toxic air pollutants. What started out as bronchitis quickly evolved into pneumonia. She soon was diagnosed with asthma. It was a scary time in our family, and for a handful of other families whose children also fell ill due to the bad air quality of 2007. Thankfully, in time my sister recovered, but to this day she still experiences symptoms of asthma due to her scarred and damaged lungs.
Since then, I combined my appreciation for nature and concern for air pollution by pursuing an education in environmental sustainability. As a young woman and aspiring sustainability leader who recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Weber State University, I am now entering the workforce equipped with the skills, knowledge and determination to cultivate a sustainable and healthy future.
This path has led me to serve as the education and outreach intern for the Burn Smart program. I am beyond grateful for this internship opportunity because it closely aligns with my passions to protect the environment and shares my concern for air quality. Burn Smart aims to improve air quality by assisting low- and moderate-income residents of Summit County to replace their old, inefficient wood-burning appliances with cleaner, healthier and more efficient sources of heat technology that come from propane, natural gas or electric powered appliances. Funded by an Environmental Justice grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this program can assist residents with up to $4,000 in credit to exchange their appliance. Another great thing about the program is that if residents don’t want to install a new gas or electric appliance, they can still be awarded an incentive just for removing their wood-burning appliance.
As I have learned by interning for Burn Smart, wood smoke is one of the most toxic air pollutants there is, and everyone exposed to it is at risk. This means that if you light your fireplace, you are risking your entire neighborhood to the harmful respiratory and cardiovascular implications that the tiny PM2.5 particles in wood smoke can cause.
Since working for this program, I have reached out to and connected with numerous organizations, businesses and people who share my interest and excitement with dispersing this information across all types of media to reach residents of Summit County. I can say that it truly feels amazing and fills me with hope to witness a program like Burn Smart that works to protect the health of communities. This internship opportunity has not only expanded my awareness on air pollution, but it has also enabled me to educate others on how they can take measurable actions to improve air quality. This one solution can measurably reduce the amount of air pollution in Summit County’s skies, making this area of Utah a visibly cleaner and healthier place to live.
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“Proponents should be honest about what they plan to put in a landfill,” writes Thomas Jacobson, “and everyone should understand the consequences if the geology and hydrology have not been properly studied.”