Air pollution taking hold over N. Utah

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Much of northern Utah was under a health alert Thursday as lung-busting soot counts signaled the arrival of another air pollution season that coincides with cold and stagnant air, which can trap industrial and tailpipe emission close to the ground.

Salt Lake City had the nation’s dirtiest air Thursday, far exceeding health standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Soot counts were nearly 70 micrograms per cubic meter — twice the EPA’s limit. Pollution was spreading along the 80-mile heavily populated Wasatch Front.

No relief was in the forecast as doctors warned that breathing fine particles of toxin-laden soot can send blood pressure soaring. The pollution hits children, infants and developing embryos especially hard, doctors said.

State regulators warned on an air-quality website that people with heart or respiratory problems should stay indoors. Authorities banned wood burning, and urged people to drive less and stay indoors.

Utah’s pollution season usually lasts through January. High-pressure systems associated with the start of winter trap everyday emissions in bowl-shaped mountain valleys. The EPA said parts of California and Portland, Ore., also were afflicted by bad air Thursday.

Utah regulators adopted plans for mandatory emissions cuts just last week for everything from industrial smokestacks to consumer products, but they say relief is still years away.

By official accounts, the plans aren’t designed to achieve federal air quality standards until 2019 at the earliest. And by then, the state may have to find ways to cut emissions further as the federal government tightens the limits.

Utah’s air was bad enough last winter to prompt three rallies on Utah’s Capitol Hill. Northern Utah had 22 days of toxic air. More recently, Utah earned “F” grades from the American Lung Association.

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