Utah DEQ News

Air Quality: My Top Ten List for Better Air

air quality

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By Donna Kemp Spangler

Utah’s winter chill is creeping upon us, and with that comes the infamous inversions, that for perhaps 10 terrible days of the year have downright frightful and unhealthy air quality.

We know we can’t completely prevent them. It is partly an act of nature. Under the right atmospheric conditions, our mountain-valley topography acts like a bowl, keeping cold air in the valleys. The snow-covered valley floors reflect rather than absorb the heat from the sun. Fog exacerbates the problem, facilitating chemical reactions from the other part we can control – vehicles, wood burning, and industrial emissions – that create even more particles and higher pollutant concentrations. The longer the inversion lasts, the higher the levels of pollution trapped under it. The warm inversion air layer is usually displaced by a strong storm system which restores air quality to healthy levels.

But that doesn’t mean we are completely helpless. We do know our actions can make a difference. Every time we start our car, idle, light a fire, turn up the heat, it all contributes to a relentless long-lasting chain of polluting events.

So just like we prepare for winter by winterizing our homes, consider the following 10 things as a “to-do” list of how to make our air quality better this winter:

  • Drive your newest car, and get it tuned. A well-tuned vehicle runs more efficiently and captures much of the exhaust that escapes the tailpipe and pollutes the air.
  • Don’t burn wood. You can replace that old wood-burning stove with a more efficient, cleaner electric or natural gas. And remember, Utah regulations prohibit you from lighting a wood stove or fireplace on inversion days – with the exception of those who use it as their sole source of heat.
  • Don’t idle your car; warm your vehicle by driving it.
  • Work a flexible schedule—commute during non-peak driving times. If you can, work with your boss and telecommute on days when the inversion is building.
  • Know before you go. If you have to drive to work, take your lunch; plan to run all your errands at once.
  • Buy a transit pass. Join a carpool group.
  • Conserve energy. Buy Energy Star products or energy efficient products.
  • Buy less toxic or nontoxic materials. DEQ’s consumer products rule establishes Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) limits in personal care, household and auto products. Lower VOCs in these products would reduce about 4,000 tons per year.
  • Use a snow shovel rather than a snow blower. If you do use a snow blower, switch out your old gas can for an EPA-approved version.
  • Check Department of Environmental Quality’s air quality forecast before you leave. Get the UtahAir app on your phone at your app store.
For more tips on what you can do to make a difference, visit Utah Clean Air Partnership, or UCAIR, or comment on this blog and tell us what’s on your to-do list to help improve Utah’s air.

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

Wood-Burning Restrictions Go into Effect November 1, 2018

Wood-burning infographic. Click to enlarge.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality (DAQ) reminds residents that wood-burning restrictions go into effect November 1, 2018, and urges Utahns to use online and mobile tools to monitor daily PM2.5 levels.

The fines for burning wood or other solid fuel devices on mandatory action days have increased to $150 for the first violation of the burning restrictions, and additional violations will be subject to increased penalties.  The penalties reflect the need to address the levels of air pollution that wood stoves contribute in light of the reclassification of Wasatch Front counties as “Serious” non-attainment areas for fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

Wood-burning restrictions help reduce hard-to-see particle pollution that builds up during winter inversion periods. Restrictions are implemented as a proactive measure when fine particle matter (PM 2.5) has the potential to reach unhealthy levels from emission sources such as vehicles and wood- and coal-burning fireplaces or stoves.

Salt Lake County has implemented mandatory burn restrictions on days when DAQ  calls for voluntary action.

The Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR) and DEQ launched the Wood Stove Conversion Assistance Program to encourage residents in nonattainment areas to convert their fireplace or wood stove to natural gas or propane. DEQ will award rebates of up to $3,800 to qualified individuals. Residents can visit UCAIR to sign up for an application for Cache County or join the wait list for Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Tooele, and Box Elder counties.

UtahAir App

Updated UtahAir App

Click image for a detailed look at the updated UtahAir app.

The DAQ air-quality alert system, developed with input from the public, provides information on the complex health implications and related activity restrictions triggered by certain air pollution levels. A phone app–UtahAir–uses DAQ’s air quality alert system. The free App is available for Android and iOS users. App users will receive action alerts and three-day forecasts to help plan the best times to exercise outdoors or when to consolidate trips based on current conditions.

“The UtahAir app is our most popular tool because Utahns can quickly click on the information they need at anytime and anywhere,” said Bryce Bird, director of DAQ. “This is important information people can access in order to make daily decisions that will improve air quality during the upcoming winter inversion season.”

Air-Quality Alert System

DAQ’s alert system consists of two parts:

Action Alerts

Three basic symbols indicate unrestricted, voluntary and mandatory actions.

  • Unrestricted Action (circle): Wood- and coal-burning stoves or fireplaces may be used but in a proper manner to reduce smoke emissions.
  • Voluntary Action (inverted triangle): Residents are asked, on a voluntary basis, to not use wood and coal burning stoves or fireplaces and reduce vehicle use by consolidating trips. Industry should optimize operating conditions to minimize air-pollution emissions.
  • Mandatory Action (X): Residents are prohibited from using wood- and coal-burning stoves or fireplaces and asked to reduce vehicle use by consolidating trips. Industry should optimize operating conditions to minimize air pollution emissions.

When mandatory restrictions are in place, the use of solid-fuel appliances may result in penalties ranging up to $299 per day. If members of the public observe violations of the burning restrictions, they should report them to DAQ by calling 801-536-4000 during business hours or by filling out a simple online form.


    Health Guidance

    The EPA’s national standard Air Quality Index (AQI) is divided into six, color-coded categories that correspond to different levels of pollution and related guidance for individuals with health concerns.

    The DAQ monitors air pollution hourly and provides a three-day “action forecast” on its web page to help residents plan ahead and adjust their activities during winter inversions to protect their health. More information on air quality and health is available at the Utah Department of Health’s Asthma Program.

    Additional suggestions on ways to reduce personal emissions during winter inversions are available in DAQ’s Inversion Toolkit.

    New Funding Helps Researchers in Quest for Air Quality Solutions

    By Lexie Wilson

    AiR2 is a meeting of researchers and scientists to discuss Utah’s air quality.

    This month, I had the unique opportunity to meet with some of Utah’s top air quality researchers at the first-annual Air Quality Research Roadmap (AiR2). AiR2 is a meeting of researchers and scientists to discuss, network, and make progress on solutions to Utah’s air quality problems. These scientists are on the frontlines in the fight against air pollution. Our goal is to improve air quality. This is something the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality (DAQ) has been working on for quite a while.

    This meeting came about because of efforts from Utah’s law makers. Before 2018, state-funded research on air quality at Utah’s universities and colleges was typically funded through one-time appropriations. Last year, the Utah Legislature approved $500,000 in ongoing funding for this type of research. This legislative funding comes with a mandate that the research leads to a benefit for Utah and its residents. Our focus is on science for solutions.

    Researchers have played a key role in understanding Utah’s unique air pollution. Thanks to their work, we now know more. Scientists at Brigham Young University and the University of Utah have added to our knowledge on the impacts of wood smoke. Insights into Uinta Basin ozone pollution came from projects at Utah State University. Other Utah researchers have expanded our understanding of air exchanges across the Great Salt Lake and down Wasatch Front Canyons. These are just a few examples of the work done by Utah’s research community.

    To facilitate discussion, DAQ drafted a list of research goals and priorities that staff presented at AiR2. Harnessing the broad knowledge base of the AiR2 participants, DAQ refined and improved its list of goals and priorities. The new list represents the kind of research topics that will make the most impact on understanding and improving air quality.

    Using the feedback from the research community, DAQ crafted a request for proposals (RFP). Shortly, DAQ will send out this RFP and researches can apply for those grants. Financing for the grants will come from the ongoing funds made available through the legislature. DAQ’s Planning, Permitting and Compliance sections comprise a diverse review panel that will select winning research proposals for the upcoming fiscal year.

    The event provided researchers with an opportunity to network and make progress on solutions to Utah’s air quality problems.

    Communication and support between researchers and regulators is vital in fighting air pollution. Figuring out what research topics will benefit our state is crucial to effective solutions.

    The daily choices a population makes have an impact on air quality. Increasing urban growth makes this impact even more pronounced. As public servants, the staff at DEQ is committed to the residents of Utah. We look for solutions to these real-world problems. Actively engaging researchers is a key step in finding fair, responsible solutions.

    The Division of Air Quality will send out the request for proposals on Nov. 1, 2018. DAQ will award $500,000 from the ongoing annual funding to 3-8 projects. For those who have questions about the RFP, contact Whitney Oswald at (801) 536-4468 or woswald@utah.gov.

     

    Lexie Wilson is an environmental scientist in the Technical Analysis section at UDAQ. A physics graduate from the University of Utah, Lexie’s zeal for scientific research and passion for environmental protection motivate her work..

    Board Denies EnergySolutions Request for Exemption for Depleted Uranium Munitions

    The Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s Waste Management and Radiation Control Board denied EnergySolutions‘ request for an exemption to state regulations requiring a performance assessment prior to the disposal of depleted uranium (DU).

    DEQ Low-Level Radioactive Waste Manager Don Verbica explains staff recommendations on EnergySolutions’ request for an exemption from performance assessment requirements for the disposal of depleted uranium munitions at its Clive facility.

    While the board expressed confidence in the company’s ability to safely store low-level radioactive waste, it rejected its request to do so without a performance assessment. The vote was unanimous, with one board member absent and board member Vern Rogers of EnergySolutions recusing himself during voting.

    depleted uranium

    DEQ scientists expressed concerns about the tendency for DU penetrators to break down in the environment.

    EnergySolutions, a radioactive waste management company with facilities in Tooele County, Utah, asked to dispose of approximately 10,000 metric tons of solid, depleted uranium metal from the disassembly of munitions (depleted uranium solid-metal penetrators, also known as DU Penetrators) from the Department of Defense. Under state rules, a performance assessment is required to demonstrate that performance standards will be met prior to disposal of more than one metric ton (total accumulation) of concentrated depleted uranium.

    If the exemption had been granted as requested, EnergySolutions would not have been required to complete the performance assessment.

    Staff from DEQ’s Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control made a lengthy presentation to the Board and answered questions. Concerns raised by staff included the geochemically unstable nature of DU metal, its reactivity in a moist, carbonate-rich environment such as at Clive, and its ability to react to form explosive substances. DEQ said it could not support the exemption without a specific DU metal performance assessment that demonstrated that there would be no undue hazards to public health and safety or the environment and that performance objectives would be met.

    SC&A environmental consultants stressed that Utah regulations require a performance assessment for the disposal of more than one metric ton of depleted uranium.

    Consultants from SC&A, an environmental and energy consulting firm, shared their analysis of data provided by EnergySolutions. SC&A stated that Utah’s regulation on the matter was clear: a performance assessment is required for disposal of more than one metric ton of depleted uranium. They also noted that the performance assessments cited by EnergySolutions were not site-specific for DU. Finally, they stated that EnergySolutions had not demonstrated that an exemption from this regulation would not result in undue hazards to public health.

    An EnergySolutions’ representative also addressed the board. He responded to DEQ’s presentation and countered estimates of the tonnage of DU munitions to be stored under the company’s request. He also refuted claims about groundwater contamination and other human-health risks.

     

    The Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control received more than 200 comments on EnergySolutions’ request. The comments unanimously opposed the request to take depleted uranium. Comments ranged from emotional pleas to technical responses.

    Board members listen to the presentations before voting.

    Tooele County is assumed to have 40 percent of the DU that EnergySolutions wanted to accept. The DU stored at the Tooele Army Depot is managed by the Army, which has strict protocols for the storage of munitions. The DU at the Depot is not exposed to weather, is stored as inventory ready for use by the military, and is not considered waste.

    The full public notice, correspondence, and supporting documents regarding EnergySolutions‘ request for an exemption are available on the DEQ Public Notices page. Presentations made by DEQ staff and SC&A during the October 25, 2018, board meeting can be found in the Board Minutes on DEQ’s webpage on the DU exemption request.

    Originally posted: October 25, 2018 at 5:54 pm
    Last updated: December 14, 2018 at 9:01 am
    Categories: Featured, News

    Funding Collaboration Helps With Centro Civico Cleanup

    By Jared Mendenhall

    Dump trucks work at Centro Civico Mexicano brownfield in Salt Lake City, Utah.

    Environmental cleanup crews working at the Centro Civico Mexicano in Salt Lake City.

    In a scene from a Tonka Truck’s wildest dreams, dump trucks, backhoes and graders dug load after load of earth out from around a green-and-white building located west of Salt Lake City’s downtown. When the work finally stopped, the machines had moved more than 4,000 yards of dirt.

    All this activity wasn’t a toy’s fantasy. Instead, it was a project to rehabilitate a tract of land owned by Centro Cívico Mexicano. After more than two years of work, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Environmental Response and Remediation has issued a No Further Action Letter for the land. This means that the site no longer poses any significant risks to human health and a once-blighted property can return to economic viability.

    Getting to the point where the land could be used for new development, however, required DEQ employees to solve problems, actively engage stakeholders, and address public concerns with a professional and fair approach.

    Brownfield clean up in Salt Lake City, Utah.

    More than 4,000 yards of dirt were removed from the site.

    Centro Cívico started in 1935 to promote unity and collaboration among Salt Lake City’s various Hispanic communities. In recent years, the group had operated out of an old west-side industrial space. In 2016, the non-profit hatched plans to redevelop its parcel. The vision was for a new space with a multipurpose theater, gym, soccer facility, classrooms, day-care center, and 60 affordable housing units for seniors.

    As the Centro Cívico board finalized its plans, a problem bubbled up. During a preliminary environmental assessment, the developer discovered polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the soil. The plot had a long history of commercial and industrial activities similar to the surrounding area. The polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons probably ended up there as a result.

    Industrial or commercial sites where future use is affected by environmental contamination are called Brownfields. The term is defined by the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act and incorporated in the Hazardous Substances Mitigation Act. Basically, the perception of contamination becomes a scarlet letter on a piece of real estate unless it is cleaned up.

    Brownfield cleanup on the westside of Salt Lake County, Utah.

    The cleanup was funded through grants and low-interest loan assistance.

    The Centro Cívico’s board took its problem to DEQ’s Division of Environmental Response and Remediation (DERR). To help Centro Cívico move forward, DERR officials stepped up with a solution.

    First, DERR helped the board with funding options for the characterizing the property. DERR’s engineers helped Centro Cívico apply for Targeted Brownfield Assessment (TBA) through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  TBAs are a tool to conduct investigation and sampling at qualified properties at no expense to the applicant.

    With the extent of contamination understood, Centro Cívico was able to look at various cleanup options for their property and DERR helped Centro Cívico apply for a Brownfields Cleanup Grant from EPA.  These national, annual grants are competitive and Centro Cívico was successful in securing $200,000 in funding from the federal government.

    Next, Centro Cívico’s project entered DEQ’s Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP). The Voluntary Cleanup Program was created in 1997 as a way to clean up sites that may not otherwise have viable regulatory cleanup options. DERR has overseen numerous cleanups under the program, including the nearby Salt Lake City Intermodal Hub and Alta Gateway sites.

    Then, DERR connected Centro Cívico with a low interest loan from the Wasatch Front Brownfield Coalition (WFBC) revolving fund. The Wasatch Front Brownfield Coalition administers a revolving loan fund (the result of an EPA Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund Grant application that DERR had assisted the WFBC with several years earlier) and offers various financing products to eligible groups looking to redevelop a qualified brownfield sites. The borrower must own the brownfield site and cannot be responsible for the contamination. The Wasatch Brownfield Coalition also requires that the site is cleaned up according to EPA standards and that the project is part of the Utah’s Voluntary Cleanup Program.

    With funding in place, the cleanup started.

    Although the cleanup at the Centro Cívico seems pretty straightforward, navigating a solution like this one isn’t. Even experienced land developers are often scared and confused when they discover a piece of land they own is contaminated. Tools like the Voluntary Cleanup Program, Targeted Brownfield Grants, and the Wasatch Brownfield Coalition revolving fund are just some of the ways DEQ’s Division of Environmental Response and Remediation are working to safeguard Utah’s land and help groups like Centro Cívico achieve their dreams.

    For more information on Utah’s Voluntary Cleanup Program visit: https://deq.utah.gov/environmental-response-and-remediation/cercla-comprehensive-environmental-response-compensation-and-liability-act/voluntary-cleanup-program

     

    I am a public information officer for Utah DEQ and a former marketer and magazine editor. Follow me on Instagram @Jarv801.

    Wood Stove Rebate Program Will Help Reduce Emissions

    By Thom Carter, 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.

    Wood stoves

    Click for a larger view

    When we think about things we can do to improve our air quality, we often think about driving less. That’s absolutely right. What may not come to mind right away, though, is something right inside our homes — wood-burning stoves.

    Wood-burning stoves are a significant source of air pollution — pollution that negatively impacts individuals’ personal health and the environment. Particles that make up the smoke and soot from wood-burning stoves can cause breathing difficulties and sometimes permanent lung damage for those who inhale the smoke. Especially during the cold winter months, smoke from wood-burning stoves gets trapped with other air pollutants resulting in health-threatening inversions. In fact, wood burning stoves can cause a mini-inversion within neighborhoods.

    To combat this air-pollution challenge, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR) is launching the Wood Stove Conversion Assistance Program on Oct. 22, 2018. The program was developed to incentivize residents to convert their fireplace or wood stove into a natural-gas or propane device.

    Beginning this fall, DEQ will award up to $3,800 to qualified individuals or families to exchange their wood-burning stove or convert their fireplace to natural gas or propane. Not only will the exchange contribute to better air quality, but it will also offer a convenient alternative to wood-burning.

    Swapping an old, uncertified woodstove for an EPA-certified stove can reduce fine particulate emissions by 60 percent. While 60 percent is a big reduction, taking out an uncertified woodstove and converting it to a natural-gas stove helps even more by reducing particulate pollution by 99.9 percent.

    wood stoves

    Click for a larger view

    Anyone who resides in Cache, Davis, Salt Lake, Utah, and Weber counties, along with portions of Box Elder and Tooele counties, is eligible for rebates. Residents can choose from a number of options:

    • Exchange an operational wood stove (including pellet) for a gas stove (natural gas or propane).
    • Convert a fireplace to a gas fireplace (natural-gas or propane).
    • Exchange an operational uncertified wood stove for an EPA certified wood stove.
    • Turn in an operational wood stove or insert for recycling.

    Funding for this initiative comes from a $9.5 million Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Targeted Airshed Grant awarded to the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) to reduce pollution from wood stoves in Utah. Under this five-year program, thousands of wood stoves will be replaced with cleaner burning devices, resulting in much less pollution along the Wasatch Front and in the Cache Valley. And that will help all of us breathe a little easier in the winter.

    To learn more about the exchange and to see if you are eligible to apply, go to stoves.utah.gov

    I am the Executive Director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership. UCAIR is a non-profit organization established to bring communities together with one goal in mind – improving Utah’s air. I have a diverse background, including work in the political and policy arena alongside international experience in professional sports. In the policy world, I have served as an elected official in New Jersey and have also worked on policy initiatives in New Jersey and Utah tied to health care and transportation, respectively. My professional sports background includes growing Major League Baseball’s operations in Australia and helping to build a new indoor football league here in the United States. I grew up in the Northeast and went to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.  Now at UCAIR, I work diligently to bring partners together for collective impact in addressing Utah’s air-quality challenges.