Utah DEQ News

Pollution in Utah: Not Always the Usual Suspects

By Brock LeBaron

When we talk about ozone pollution in Utah, we usually think of wintertime ozone in the Uinta Basin and summertime ozone along the Wasatch Front. What we don’t always take into account is the global nature of ozone; what we often view as a localized problem actually comes from a combination of regional, national and international pollution sources. That’s why the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) is working with other states to learn more about the ways ozone moves from place to place so we can find ways reduce its impacts on our air quality.

Ozone transport is the term we use to describe the movement of ozone from one area to another. DAQ recently invited Tom Moore, Air Quality Program Manager of the Western Regional Air Partnership (WRAP), to talk with representatives from our local health departments, tribes, federal land managers and DAQ scientists about the emission sources that contribute to regional ozone pollution. WRAP’s West-wide JumpstartAir Quality Monitoring Study (WestJumpAQMS) is a massive effort to model air emissions and apportion the sources of ozone that impact air quality in the western United States.

Asian Pollution

Asian pollution drifts east toward North America in 2010. Hawaii is denoted by the star Credit: Nature Geoscience

Ozone transport is a major contributor to background ozone levels in Utah. Background ozone—the ozone in the air that isn’t attributable to local manmade (anthropogenic) sources—comes from a number of places:

  • Intercontinental transport of ozone and nitrogen oxides (NOx) from Asia contributes up to 20 percent of the West’s total ozone concentrations and it has been shown to be growing by 0.5–1 parts per billion (ppb) per year.
  • Wildfires, which are on the rise in the western states, increase ozone levels.
  • Stratospheric intrusions—that’s when the good ozone in the upper atmosphere pushes downward into the atmospheric layer just above the earth’s surface—can increase ground-level ozone concentrations by 20–40 ppb.
  • Ozone from western states often travels to downwind neighbors.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from biogenic sources such as trees boost the formation of ozone.

That’s why remote areas in southern Utah show elevated background ozone concentrations, even though they are located far away from the typical urban sources of ozone.

Pollution Over U.S.

Asian ozone pollution over U.S. during springtime Credit: Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to tighten the ozone health standard from the current level of 75 ppb over an 8-hour period to a more protective level between 60–70 ppb. In Utah, our background ozone levels alone can range from 60 to 70 ppb, so we are concerned about how we can protect the health of our residents and meet these stricter standards.

Working together with other states on regional air quality planning is critical. By pooling our knowledge and planning efforts through WRAP and using the information from the WestJumpAQMS, we can better understand and address the ozone that’s making its way into Utah from sources that aren’t directly under our regulatory control.

If you’d like to learn more about ozone in the West, check out the Ozone Workshop materials posted on DAQ’s home page under News and Announcements, or visit WRAP’s ozone webpage.
Pollution Ozone

Brock LaBaron,
Deputy Director,
Utah Division of Air Quality

I have a degree in meteorology and work for the Utah Division of Air Quality, where I am currently the Deputy Director. I serve on the WRAP Board of Directors that oversees the WestJumpAQMS project. When I’m not tracking air pollution, I spend my time raising Russian thistle on my ranch in Boulder, Utah.

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Environmental Regulators Are People Too

By Donna Kemp Spangler

It’s easy to blame pollution problems on nameless, faceless environmental bureaucrats. The air is bad, so it must be their fault for giving the green light to industry to pollute in urban areas. Land and water contamination? How could our environmental protectors allow such a thing to happen?

We can all be outraged when bad things happen to our environment. And
we at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) are people who share that outrage. We have hopes, dreams, families and a commitment to making the environment better.

When the criticism is directed at us, regulators who are trying to fix the problem, it’s hard not to take it personally. As the Communications Director for DEQ, I get the calls from people who can’t breathe when the air is bad and from parents who want to know why their children can’t go outside during recess. I wish I could wave a magic wand that would instantly transform the polluted skies into clear, fresh air. Instead, I try to do what collectively will make a difference to help our air if we all engage: take public transit, buy air-friendly products, don’t idle and follow the suggestions from our nonprofit partner UCAIR.

And pray for a stiff wind.

Donna Kemp SpanglerIn honor of Earth Day, the blogs posted over the past 12 days are from DEQ employees who have a commitment and passion to not only protect the environment but also make it better. We live and work in Utah because we love our quality of life here. For me, it was a trip to southern Utah as an environmental reporter when I had that awe-inspiring moment: the sun setting on the red rock of Bryce Canyon on my way to Escalante that literally made me stop my vehicle and marvel at its beauty. That was more than 15 years ago.

I thought I would eventually return to my Northwest roots, but I made Utah my home because I fell in love with the beauty and an archaeologist, Jerry Spangler, who runs the nonprofit Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance, and shares a passion and commitment to preserving Utah’s environment.

Like me, many of us at DEQ love what we do. It’s challenging at times when constrained by realities of a layer-cake of state and federal laws. But whether it’s writing a permit or overseeing a cleanup, our goal is to make the environment a better place for all of us. It’s not just a job—it’s a passion. For us Earth Day is every day.

Follow us on Twitter (@UtahDEQ, @deqdonna), like us on Facebook (utahdeq) and come back to our blog weekly to share with us your thoughts and passions about Utah’s environment.

A 1986 graduate of University of Portland, I devoted much of my career writing about politics and environment for newspapers in the Northwest. A former environmental reporter for the Deseret News, I also covered biathlon during the 2002 Winter Olympics. I did a brief stint in Washington D.C. as a reporter before joining DEQ in 2006, where I was appointed Communications Director in 2010. I’m most proud to be a co-author with my husband, Jerry Spangler, on books about Nine Mile Canyon.

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Carpool: Save Money – Build Friendships

By Therron Blatter

Many years ago, I would ride the Redwood Road bus to and from work. At that time in my life, my decision to take the bus was based on economics and the fact that we only had one vehicle. This arrangement actually worked out quite well. The bus stopped a few blocks from my home in Riverton and only took about 45 minutes each way. This changed abruptly when Redwood Road was rebuilt in the mid 1990’s. The construction caused major delays for the bus, and what once took 45 minutes turned into 90 minutes.

Therron BlatterI started to look for other options and formed a carpool with a few co-workers who lived in the south end of the valley. I have commuted to work via carpool nearly every day since then for almost twenty years. At times, we had as many as five regulars, but usually there were four of us. Several folks moved on to other jobs, but we always found someone to take their spot. Looking back, there have been about a dozen different people in our carpool; some for only a summer, and some for nearly the entire 20 years.

It is interesting to contemplate some of the impacts of our carpool, both financially and environmentally. I would estimate that I have saved nearly 3,500 round trips to work worth over 158,000 total miles. Fuel costs have varied over the years, but assuming an average of $2.50 a gallon and 30 MPG, this turns into a savings of over $13,000 in gasoline. Perhaps even more of a savings is the 158,000 miles of wear and tear I haven’t put on my personal vehicles. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I’m sure the 158,000 miles adds up to a pretty impressive amount of pollution prevented. In reality, it probably adds up to three or four times as much when you consider that our carpool typically took three or four cars off the road.

One of the things that might be easy to overlook is the human factor of the carpool. Over the years, we have become good friends. We have shared our life’s events together as our children have grown up, gone off to college, gotten married and given us grandchildren. We have engaged in interesting and insightful conversation, shared many laughs, and a few sad times as we have traveled together. And to think I would have hardly know most of them if not for the carpool.

With the opening of the Provo Front-runner line, we made the change to commuting via UTA rail. We have been doing this for almost a year now but still carpool to the Draper station and ride the train together. This has been our story for nearly twenty years and will likely continue until we are all retired.

Not sure how to get started? Check out UTA’s Rideshare program for more information on how you can set up your own carpool.

I am the Branch Manager for the Underground Storage Tank Branch of Division of Environmental Response and Remediation. I have worked for DEQ since 1991. Away from the office, I enjoy backpacking the wilds of Montana (my birth state) in the summer and enjoy Utah’s snow in the winter.

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Blue Sky Program = Energy Savings

By Rik Ombach

For those of you who are not familiar with Rocky Mountain Power’s Blue Sky Program, it is a voluntary option on your electric bill that supports renewable energy development. Specifically, the program supports wind and solar energy programs throughout Utah and the region as well as educational programs on renewable energy. Each “block” of renewable energy costs $1.95 and if you want, you can make all of the energy your home uses come from supported renewable energy. Some local businesses have used this program to advertise that all of their power is from renewable sources. I purchased one block of renewable energy to show my support for renewable energy programs.

I thought it was interesting that there was a bill this last session to add $1.00 to all of our utility bills to allow the public to support air quality programs. I heard this bill was presented in response to a recent survey by Envision Utah that indicated 99% of Utahns are willing to take personal action to improve air quality. While the bill failed, this program is available for you to use right now!

There are 38,000 people in the State that participate in the Blue Sky program. That is a fair amount of people, but statewide, this is a small fraction of the population. The Blue Sky Program is one way to promote renewable energy and contribute to projects like the recently announced solar farm that Blue Sky is helping to fund.

Rik OmbachTo learn more about Blue Sky, check out the program and familiarize yourself with the different resources available. Make that leap today and sign up to help out our air by supporting renewable energy development.

I have been with DEQ for more than 14 years. I spent 11 years with the Division of Environmental Response and Remediation, and the last three years with the Division of Air Quality in the Minor Source Compliance Section doing inspections. I have over 20 years of military experience and am presently serving in the Air National Guard. My hobbies include anything outdoors, but I mostly enjoy canyoneering in Southern Utah with family and friends. I’m looking forward to an upcoming dive trip to Guam in May 2014.

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Reusable? Be Environmentally Friendly

By Hilary Arens

So how does “Every Day is Earth Day” work at my house? Well, with toddler twins, some days just feel like survival until bedtime! But since both my husband and I are environmentalists and both work for DEQ, we have instilled some habits in our home that even on the busiest days make us feel like we are contributing to the greater good.

Saving water, for example. Especially living in the desert, we think it is
incredibly important to teach our kids about saving water. While playing in running tap water is fun for them, they’ve learned to turn the water off when brushing their teeth and scrubbing their hands. We have installed low-flow fixtures in our bathroom and got a water audit a few years back to make sure we were not over watering the small bit of grass that remains on our xeriscaped yard.

We’ve tried to reduce the amount of trash we make on a daily basis. We have reusable lunch containers for the kids’ lunches and use Tupperware whenever possible instead of plastic bags. We bring our own reusable bags to the grocery store, and the kids love getting the bags out from the drawer we keep the bags in. Our kids really enjoy sorting our garbage into trash and recycling, and we encourage them to make use of some of the materials in new and creative ways. Most of their bath toys are empty yogurt containers or juice bottles!

Hilary ArensWhile biking is fun, we also use our bikes to run errands in our neighborhood. Our kids still can’t travel too far, but we believe that instilling the use of feet or bikes over cars when possible will become a habit for them as they grow older.

While there are still many things we can do every day to make our environment cleaner and make responsible decisions, having a household mindset of a global consciousness will hopefully help raise our young children to make these same decisions on their own when they’re older.

I’ve worked for the Utah Division of Water Quality for five and a half years in the Watershed Protection Section. My focus has been on the Jordan River Basin and now has expanded to include the Utah Lake watershed. I have a master degree in Watershed Science from Colorado State and an undergraduate degree in Biology and Environmental Science from Colby College, where Seth and I met. Seth works in the Division of Air Quality. Outside of work, I love being on rivers, skiing, biking and taking our toddler twins where few toddlers usually go.

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Be Water Wise: Plant What’s Native to Utah

By Kate Johnson

I grew up in a family that didn’t have money to spare, so my mother was relentless about making us turn off lights, keep the thermostat low, don’t waste water, and so on. The Energy Crisis of the early 1970s led to much media attention about ways to conserve energy, and my brother’s comment to my mother at the time was there was nothing for us to change in our routine: we were already doing all the things!

Nothing has changed as I’ve gotten older, but my focus now is more about
the inherent value of using resources wisely and conservatively. What I don’t use today I hope may be available in the future for my nieces, nephews, friends and neighbors.

On water use, my husband and I have chosen to keep our yard in the most natural state possible. The native plants of Utah know a thing or two about conserving water, after all! Our trees and shrubs are mostly Gambel Oak, Chokecherry, Serviceberry, and some pines and junipers. We’ve planted Elderberries and other fruit-bearing bushes, which are beautiful and also beneficial to wildlife. Native flowers like Penstemon, Butterfly Weed, Globe mallow and others are beautiful to look at and are great for the native pollinators. (And this is the time of year to plant them, before it gets too hot!) We use a drip system to water what needs to be watered, and the system is on timers that we fine-tune during the year, depending on how hot it is and how much rain we’ve been getting.

Not that we don’t have some not-so-guilty pleasures—we have some fruit trees and enjoy some vegetable and flowering plants that do need more regular watering—but we keep those where they are easy to give extra water to individually.

Kate JohnsonThese things do take a little planning and maintenance, but you don’t have to do them all at once. And keep in mind that once you’ve made a few changes, you might have more time to spend with your family on the weekends.

Tired of mowing the lawn? Get rid of some of it and plant some Utah natives. Insects and birds will thank you, you’ll use a lot less water, and you’ll have more time to spend with your family and friends.

I am an Environmental Program Manager in the Division of Drinking Water and oversee the Source Protection program. I’m a geologist by profession, married, love the outdoors, sewing, gardening, and bird watching, and just got a pair of in-line skates that I am nervous (yet excited) about trying out.