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EPA Scientists Join Utah DEQ in PM2.5 Study

By Ann Brown and Karen Stewart, Guest Bloggers

DEQ invites guest bloggers to share their thoughts on issues that impact our environment. We appreciate their insights and the opportunity to broaden the conversation with others in the community.

Winter in Utah brings to mind crystal clear blue skies, snow-capped mountains, and a long ski season. But during the winter in Utah’s northern valleys, cold air inversions trap pollution emitted from multiple sources, including vehicles, industry, and agriculture. This allows for the mixing of atmospheric chemicals that leads to the formation of PM2.5, which is harmful to health at high levels.

The area’s more than two million residents experience levels that exceed air quality standards an average of 18 days during the winter. It has contributed to a 42 percent higher rate of emergency room visits for asthma and a 4.5 percent increase in the risk for coronary events like heart attacks.

Interior of the Twin Otter shows the air-monitoring equipment for measuring pollutant levels aloft to learn more about the chemical reactions that cause PM2.5.

The Twin Otter filled with air-quality monitoring equipment. Photo credit: Ale Franchin

Last month, EPA scientists packed up their research trailer with air monitoring instruments and traveled to Utah to assist in determining how to solve the area’s air pollution problem. They are participating in the Utah Winter Fine Particle Study, one of the most comprehensive efforts to date to analyze the area’s pollutants and determine the chemical processes in the atmosphere that lead to the formation of PM2.5. The study is being conducted by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other research organizations.

EPA and its partners in the study are taking daily measurements of air pollutants in three valleys using sophisticated ground-based instruments and remote sensing monitors. EPA scientists are providing their expertise in air quality measurement and have developed new and advanced technology to better monitor air pollutants. At the same time, NOAA’s research aircraft is flying over the region to measure air pollutants in the upper atmosphere.

The study will help to identify key emission sources and evaluate other factors—such as meteorology, geography, snow cover, and time of day—that may play a role in the formation of PM2.5. Once data is collected, Utah can use the information to determine the most effective strategies to reduce PM2.5 levels during the winter months and improve air quality for public health. The study is also expected to help other states with similar mountain valleys make decisions on how to protect air quality for their residents.

Researchers for the Winter PM2.5 study stand in front of the Twin Otter plane

UWFPS 2017 participants with the Twin Otter at the Salt Lake International Airport. Photo credit: Steve Brown

For more information about the Utah Winter Fine Particulate Study, visit the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) webpages.

Ann Brown and Karen Stewart

Ann Brown is the communications lead for EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program. Karen Stewart is an Oak Ridge Associated University contractor with EPA’s National Exposure Research Laboratory.

This entry was originally published on February 13th, 2017 and posted in news.

Polluting Wood Stoves Go up in Smoke with Sole-Source Conversion Program

By Joel Karmazyn

The sole-source conversion program helped owners replace old coal stoves like the one pictured with new natural-gas furnaces.

Old coal stove ready for removal

Most of us take for granted the luxury of heating our homes with natural gas. But did you know that some homeowners within Utah’s PM2.5 nonattainment areas heat their homes solely with wood or coal? Thanks to a $500,000 appropriation from the 2014 Utah State Legislature, the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) was able to install central-heating systems in homes that were heated solely by wood or coal and registered with DAQ as a “sole-source residence.”

DAQ’s sole-source conversion project was completed in 2016, with 35 homes receiving new natural-gas furnaces, specialty heaters, or boilers.

Wood- and coal-burning devices are more polluting than other sources of heat. In 2016, DAQ conducted a wintertime wood-smoke study that collected PM2.5 measurements and analyzed them for a specific chemical marker from wood burning. Data analysis of these measurements indicate that emissions from wood burning contribute an appreciable amount of pollution during winter inversions in the PM2.5 nonattainment areas in northern Utah, even during mandatory no-burn periods.

Under our air quality rules, residents who use wood or coal as their sole source of heat are exempt from the burning restrictions we put in place during wintertime inversions. This exemption ensures that residents can heat their homes, but it doesn’t address the high emissions that come from these heating sources.

That’s where the sole-source conversion program came in.

Our office, through State Procurement, contracted with American Heating and Cooling for the sole-source conversion project. Tom Sanders from American Heating and Cooling and I inspected residences to assure that the home met the legal definition of a sole source. We then proceeded to design a conversion project that was agreeable to the homeowner. Many sole-source homes lacked ducting, a significant obstacle that often leads to some “creative” designs!

The sole-source conversion replaced old furnaces with new natural gas furnaces like the ones pictured.

New natural-gas furnace

Here’s an example of what we did. The wood stove pictured at the beginning of the blog was located in the basement of a log cabin in a residential neighborhood in the Wasatch Front and provided the sole source of heat. The sole-source conversion project included the installation of a high-efficiency (96 percent) natural-gas furnace. The project required some creative ducting to direct heat to all parts of this multi-level cabin, but we were able to successfully install a system that satisfied the needs of the homeowner and reduced the emissions to our airshed from the old wood stove.

We completed conversions in Box Elder, Salt Lake, Tooele, Utah, and Weber counties. All together, we installed 29 natural-gas or propane furnaces, five natural-gas specialty heaters, and one natural-gas boiler. We retired seven coal stokers and installed six new gas lines. The estimated combined emission reduction from the project was 4.6 tons per year.

 

The conversion program was a great success. We were able to decrease  solid-fuel emissions — both gases and particulates — that lead to poor air quality during inversion periods and provide financial assistance to homeowners who weren’t able to afford the costly upgrades necessary to convert from solid fuels to cleaner-burning forms of heating.

You can take the following simple steps to reduce the impacts of wood smoke, particularly during inversions:

Joel KarmazynI am an environmental scientist at the Utah Division of Air Quality, where I am responsible for policy and planning of minor-source emissions. I enjoy traveling, hiking with my dog, and working in my vegetable garden.

 

This entry was originally published on February 6th, 2017, updated on February 17th, 2017, and posted in news.

DEQ’s Budget Priorities Reflect Our Values

By Scott Baird

The 2017 Utah Legislature kicked off its 45-day session last week, marking the start of an exciting and occasionally hectic time for all of us at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Although we are neutral players in the legislative process, our directors and scientists are available 24/7 to answer questions, provide credible, objective scientific information, and explain the impacts that proposed legislation could have on Utah’s environment.

DEQ’s mission to safeguard and improve Utah’s air, land, and water through balanced regulation is supported by four core values that define who we are and guide our decisions, actions, and funding priorities:

  • Exceptional Service
  • Commitment to Employees
  • Credibility and Trust
  • Continuous Improvement

Let’s take a quick look at the funding priorities for DEQ in Governor Gary Herbert’s proposed budget to see how these “building blocks” support and reinforce our mission and core values.

Monitoring Equipment

Values: Exceptional Service, Credibility and Trust

The Division of Air Quality (DAQ) requested $1.3 million in one-time funding and $150,000 in ongoing funding to replace monitoring equipment past its useful life and expand the monitoring network to accommodate population growth in Iron County. New monitoring equipment will provide accurate and reliable air-quality data to help us make regulatory decisions based on sound science and provide the public with real-time information on current air-quality conditions.

Leak Detection and Repair in the Uinta Basin

Values: Exceptional Service, Continuous Improvement

DAQ requested $250,000 in one-time funding to continue our partnership with the Bingham Entrepreneurship and Energy Research Center and Tri-County Health Department for leak detection and repair at oil and gas facilities in the Uinta Basin. This funding helps oil and gas companies detect invisible volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions leaking from storage tanks. The project benefits the public by reducing emissions that contribute to air pollution and benefits oil and gas operators by reducing the amount of salable product they lose through leaks. DAQ’s use of infrared cameras has improved the division’s ability to collect information on Basin emissions and boosted the industry’s use of this valuable leak-detection technology.

Water Quality: Harmful Algal Bloom Fund

Values: Exceptional Service, Credibility and Trust

The Division of Water Quality (DWQ) requested $123,000 in one-time funding to help the division respond to harmful algal blooms (HABs). These blooms pose a health risk to the public and produce a range of adverse economic and ecological impacts to Utah’s waterways. The funding will ensure that DWQ can respond quickly when HABs occur and provide accurate sampling data to local health departments, municipalities, agriculture, and the public.

Water-Use Study

Values: Exceptional Service, Credibility and Trust, Continuous Improvement

The Division of Drinking Water (DDW) requested $4.5 million in one-time funding to purchase advanced metering equipment to gather accurate and reliable water-use data. This information will help DDW establish appropriate water-source capacity standards based on “peak day” demands. Advanced metering equipment, unlike the current “basic” equipment, can record and report “peak day” water use. This information helps DDW and water providers ensure that residents have access to adequate water every day throughout the day.

Spill Coordinator

Values: Exceptional Service, Credibility and Trust, Continuous Improvement

The Division of Water Quality (DWQ) requested $120,900 in ongoing funding to respond effectively to spills into Utah waterways. Spills are on the rise across the state, and the environmental and economic damage can be significant. Prior to the July 2016 hire of a dedicated Spill Coordinator, spill-response tasks were divided among six DWQ employees. This division of labor was inefficient and time-consuming. Response time and incident close-out has improved dramatically since the new coordinator came on board. Ongoing funding of this position will ensure that DWQ can maintain its improved spills response.

These budget requests provide our employees with the resources and support to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.  Cumulatively, they demonstrate our commitment to our core values, specifically identifying ways that we can better serve our customers with reliable information, while continually finding new and innovative ways to accomplish our mission and support our work on behalf of the people of Utah.

Our mission is to safeguard the health and well-being of every Utah resident by protecting and improving our state’s air, land, and water. It’s a mission that, along with our values, we take seriously. We appreciate the opportunity each year to support that mission by participating in the legislative process.

Want to learn more about the 2017 legislative session? Visit the Utah Legislature’s website  to find bills, listen to live and archived  broadcasts of committee meetings, or check out the calendar of scheduled hearings and floor votes. DEQ keeps a running tally of environmental legislation throughout the session on our legislative webpage. You can also create your own personalized list using the legislative bill tracker.

As the Deputy Director over Policy, Planning, and Operational Improvement, I enjoy working with legislators, stakeholders, and our employees in finding ways to improve how we do our work. Prior to joining DEQ, I worked in the Governor’s Offices in Utah and Washington and with Deloitte Consulting in D.C., where I helped state and federal agencies identify and implement opportunities to improve. I earned my Bachelor’s Degree at Brigham Young University and my Masters in Public Administration (MPA) and JD degrees from Syracuse University. I LOVE to get outdoors and enjoy SKIING, running, hiking, backpacking, camping, working in the yard, fixing up our broken-down house, and anything else I can convince my wife and four daughters to do with me … oh yeah, and I really like ice cream!

 

This entry was originally published on January 30th, 2017, updated on January 31st, 2017, and posted in news.

Recess Guidance Protects Kids During Poor Air-Quality Days

By Brittany Guerra, Guest Blogger

DEQ invites guest bloggers to share their thoughts on issues that impact our environment. We appreciate their insights and the opportunity to broaden the conversation with others in the community.

Winter months in Utah bring snow sports, holiday feasting, and seasonal inversions. As you’ve watched the mountain line slowly disappear behind a hazy fog of pollution, have you ever wondered what it means for your family’s health, and what you can do about it? If you have, you aren’t alone.

Inversion Pollution and Its Impact on Health

Diagram showing how PM2.5 compares in size to a human hair.

Photo courtesy of the Utah Department of Health

During an inversion, air pollution, including PM 2.5, along with cold air gets trapped in the valley and builds until a storm front blows through.

Due to its small size, PM 2.5 can get deep into the lungs and can lead to a number of health issues, including aggravated asthma. For sensitive groups, including children or those with respiratory or heart conditions, PM 2.5 can have a greater health impact.

A Way to Protect – The Utah Recess Guidance

The Utah Recess Guidance is a set of air quality guidelines for schools to use in determining whether to move recess indoors based off of PM 2.5 levels. In 2016, a group of health scientists, parents, school personnel, and air quality advocacy groups updated the Guidance to be more protective and align with the EPA AQI recommendations.

What You Can Do As a Parent

Infographic showing new recess guidance

Click to access a printable version of the recess guidance

You know your child’s needs best. Below are five things you can do to keep them safe during this year’s inversion season:

  1. Become a Guidance expert.
  2. Talk with your child’s doctor about whether your child is “sensitive” to poor air quality.
  3. Contact your child’s school to discuss when you want them to stay inside for recess based on their health needs.
  4. Be aware of current air quality levels. Visit DEQ for hourly PM2.5 levels and the air quality forecast.
  5. Do your part to reduce vehicle emissions during winter inversion months. Carpool, combine errand runs into one trip, use public transit, and don’t idle in your car longer than 10-30 seconds.
To learn more about the Recess Guidance, visit the Utah Asthma Program.  Be sure to check out our resources for parents  and schools, including a four-step plan for schools using the recess guidance, how to identify children who are sensitive to poor air quality, and how parents can advocate for their child’s health. If your child is sensitive to poor air quality, talk with your doctor about filling out  an Asthma School Form.  Looking for current air-quality conditions? Visit DEQ  for real-time air-quality data.
I am the Health Program Specialist for the Utah Asthma Program, and am responsible for our health systems projects, media coordination, and Recess Guidance program. The Utah Asthma Program promotes comprehensive asthma care and services, which includes access to guidelines-based asthma clinical care, asthma self-management education, and understanding and reducing triggers for asthma attacks, including poor air quality. I grew up in Georgia, graduated from BYU with a Master’s of Public Health, and began working for the Utah Asthma Program in 2014. In my free time, I teach an online public health course for BYU-Idaho, travel as much as I can, and enjoy the amazing outdoors in Utah, including hiking, biking, and cross country skiing. 

This entry was originally published on January 23rd, 2017, updated on January 26th, 2017, and posted in news.

Radon Action Week: DEQ Tests Schools for Radon Gas

By: Kristin Armstrong

Many of us have heard about the dangers of indoor radon in homes, but what about the risks of radon gas in schools? To combat radon’s harmful effects on school-aged children and to raise public awareness of the issue, the Utah Department of Health has provided funding to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to test schools across the state for elevated levels of radon.

Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, and the leading cause among non-smokers. It is a toxic, radioactive gas that you cannot see, touch, hear, or smell. It comes from uranium in the soil and seeps into homes and schools through cracks in the foundation and other openings.

When I started working at DEQ this past October, I had very little idea of what radon actually was and just how harmful it could be. Since starting with the Radon Program, I have tested eleven schools across four Utah counties: Tooele, Duchesne, Uintah and Salt Lake. The tested schools have ranged from elementary to high school. I conduct the tests by placing a small test packet filled with activated charcoal in each classroom and leaving it for 36-96 hours, giving time for the radon to be absorbed by the charcoal for testing. Then I return to the schools to collect the tests, package them up, and send them off to the lab to be tested for radon levels. I’m very happy to report that so far all of the schools we have tested have come in below the EPA acceptable level of indoor radon, which is 4.0 pCi/L.

What can schools do if they discover they do have high levels of radon? While the effects of radon are scary, there is a fairly simple solution! Schools can hire a certified radon mitigator to install a system to reduce the levels of radon well below 4.0 pCi/L. DEQ provides a list of mitigators from all over the state who can install a radon-mitigation system by drilling about a five-inch hole in the foundation of the building and installing a pipe-and-fan system that will redirect the radon outside of the building into the outside air.

Davis County has taken the initiative to not only test its schools but also build new schools using RRNC, or Radon Resistant New Construction. This process involves building a radon mitigation system during the initial construction of the school. Doing this not only saves money for the school, as it is cheaper to have the mitigation built in at the time of construction than to add it in at a later time, but it also saves kids from being exposed to any radon at all.

Testing schools for radon gas helps to not only protect our children and teachers from exposure and its harmful effects, but it also helps to raise public awareness about radon. Teachers at nearly every school that I have tested have asked me more about radon, and it reminded many of them about the need to test their own homes. Some teachers also use it as a learning opportunity with their students, most of whom have never heard of radon before.

Radon gas is a serious threat to our public health, and I am happy to be able to help DEQ be part of the solution.

Governor Gary Herbert has declared Jan. 16-20 Radon Action Week. Testing your home for radon is easy and could save a life! Visit our website to order a $9 test kit.  If your test shows elevated radon levels, check out our list of certified mitigator professionals. Concerned about the possibility of radon at your children’s school? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has free guidance materials available to schools.

I have been working with the Department of Environmental Quality in the Indoor Radon Program since October 2016. I graduated from the University of Utah in May of 2016 with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. I love living in the beautiful state of Utah and taking advantage of its many outdoor recreations. In my spare time, I love to snowboard, hike, cook, and travel.

This entry was originally published on January 17th, 2017, updated on February 2nd, 2017, and posted in news.

DEQ: Air Scientists Have Eyes in the Sky for PM2.5

By Donna Kemp Spangler

Photo of inversions shows the build-up of fine particulates or PM2.5

Fine particulates (PM2.5) build up during inversions.

It doesn’t take a scientist to know Utah has prolonged periods of bad air during the winter. But it does take a team of local and national scientific researchers to understand more fully why we have bad air.

For years, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s air-quality scientists have been focused on figuring out what causes Utah’s winter air pollution. The Division of Air Quality (DAQ) has already honed in on the fact that wintertime emissions come from industry (13 percent), vehicles (48 percent) and “area” sources like home heating, restaurants, and small manufacturing (39 percent). DAQ scientists know this by analyzing computer models and ground-based air measurements to trace the emission sources that form particulate matter known as PM2.5 , a major health concern because breathing can trap these particles in the lungs.

DAQ is about to take it to a new level: Starting this month an aircraft, equipped essentially with an air-monitoring station, will fly over the Wasatch Front and northern Utah during inversions and non-inversion periods to collect data. Extensive ground-based observations will be carried out at five locations including Smithfield and Logan in Cache Valley, University of Utah and Hawthorne Elementary in Salt Lake Valley, and Lindon in Utah Valley to provide continuous measurements relevant to PM2.5 formation. This will give researchers a better understanding of how the emissions of primary chemicals such as NOx, VOCs, and ammonia react to form PM2.5. This will also help DAQ scientists improve the performance of the computer model they use to develop regulatory controls that are both appropriate and effective.

Interior of the NOAA Twin Otter shows the range of study equipment for its small space. Photo courtesy of NOAA

Interior of the NOAA Twin Otter shows the range of study equipment for its small space. Photo courtesy of NOAA

The field campaign, “Utah Winter Fine Particulate Aircraft Study,” is being led by Dr. Munkhbayar Baasandorj and Dr. Steven Brown, and includes others at DAQ, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder, Colorado, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), University of Utah, Utah State University, Brigham Young University, University of Toronto, University of Washington and University of Minnesota. The research team will use NOAA’s specially equipped light aircraft known as the Twin Otter. The aircraft will fly over the Cache, Salt Lake, and Utah valleys from January 15 to February 14, 2017, to survey the chemical conditions responsible for the formation of PM2.5.

2016 Winter PM2.5 Study equipment on the rooftop at the University of Utah.

Air-quality monitoring equipment on the rooftop at the University of Utah from last year’s Winter PM2.5 study

The Utah Legislature provided about $130,000 as seed money to get the estimated $2 million project going. NOAA, EPA, USDA and the Universities are donating equipment and expertise. NOAA researchers, previously involved in the Uinta Basin winter ozone air quality studies, are now turning their attention to the Wasatch Front.

A better understanding of the causes of wintertime PM2.5 leads to more effective controls and ultimately better air quality and improved health. DEQ, through its active involvement with the scientific community, is a proactive and trusted partner in the effort to improve the quality of life for Utah citizens and businesses.

 

Want to know more? A detailed description of the study is available on our website.

Donna SpanglerI am the Communications Director for DEQ and a former reporter for the Deseret News. I write a monthly blog post. You can read my previous blog posts at deq.utah.gov/news. You can follow me on Twitter @deqdonna

 

This entry was originally published on January 9th, 2017, updated on January 24th, 2017, and posted in news.