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Salt Lake City Makes the ALA's Top 25 Most Polluted Cities List
February 2nd, 2009

Utah's dangerous air pollution is now some of worst in the nation

by Jacob Hodgen

Utahns can beam with pride yet again as they bask in the glory of new national recognition. Yes, that's right: Utah just landed three of its own in the top 25 list of the most polluted cities in the country.

Take a moment to turn to your local coal-fired power plant or oil refinery executive and shake their hand.

Though some may write this off as environmentalist propaganda, please first note that this study was conducted by the American Lung Association, and their agenda is fairly simple: they want to prevent people from dying a slow and painful death from respiratory illness. But your grandmother can probably tell you more about this, since she'll be the one that dies from it.

SLC Pollution
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of. . . winter in SLC

Three cheers for Salt Lake City, Logan, and Provo (yes--you read that correctly) for beating out some of last year's tough contenders, like New York and Chicago, in the contest for the most toxic city in the nation. Though Utahns recently pat themselves on the back for passing the Indoor Clean Air Act to "protect Utahns and visitors to the state from exposure to the harmful effects of environmental tobacco smoke," its commitment to thinly regulated industry and cheap-at-any-cost power generation has paid off with entire weeks of epically polluted inversion in January that, according to Intermountain Medical Center's Dr. Nathan Dean, has the same effect on the entire Salt Lake Valley as "smoking two packs a day."

While most cities try to prevent their children from getting sick by implementing policy that prevents the air from filling with poison and acid, Utah instead opts to have its elementary school teachers keep their kids inside during recess on the "Red" days. Of course, they still have to send them outside to walk home or wait for the bus once classes are over. However, have no fear: your local power company assures you that they will be just fine.

Provo Pollution
Welcome to Provo: #12 worst pollution in the nation

Salt Lake City appears discontented to remain in the 7th seed and has its eye on the gold with a plan to build a massive new power plant in West Bountiful that will be fueled by waste petroleum. In addition to cheap electricity, this plant will have the additional perk of pumping out 1 million pounds of pollutants into the air yearly, including lead and mercury. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that this will directly result in the premature deaths of 20 locals each year from preventable, smog-related respiratory illness. Since airborne pollutants have the severest effects on children and the elderly, perhaps the Utah legislature views this as a way to help boost the economy by culling the numbers of these two historically unproductive demographics. This makes good fiscal sense for the state, since education and health care costs are on the rise.

While climbing to the top of the national leader board is impressive, Utah still has a ways to go in the international circuit in order to beat out China and India, where an estimated 340,000 people might die this year from outdoor pollutants. In the meantime, the American Lung Association warns anyone in one of the following highly vulnerable groups to take extra caution during periods of air pollution: the young, the old, those who like to exercise outdoors, and those whose engage in respiration with more than intermittent frequency. They also offer these helpful tips for survival in a pollution-rich environment. As a Utah resident, you may wish to consider tattooing them to your forearm.

  1. Do train early in the day or in the evening.
  2. Do avoid midday or afternoon exercise, and avoid strenuous outdoor work, if possible, when ozone smog or other pollution levels are high.
  3. Do avoid congested streets and rush hour traffic; pollution levels can be high, up to 50 feet from the roadway.
  4. Do make sure teachers, coaches and recreation officials know about air pollution and act accordingly.

For further reading about pollution in Utah, see the following links:

Photos by Aaron Gustafson and Jacob Hodgen

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