Smoky Vehicles = Smoggy Air: Nothing to Belch About

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By Donna Kemp Spangler

We’ve all seen it: A vehicle on the road is trailing plumes of smoke that smacks as an offense to your sensitivity to Utah’s air quality. How could those drivers not know?

For some drivers, it is probably unintentional, and maybe some are unaware there’s an engine problem causing the belching smoke from their tailpipes. But there are others who do it on purpose. These are the so-called ‘coal rollers’ who soup up their diesel engines and remove emissions controls to demonstrate their smoke-generating prowess.

The signs of smoke, whether from intentional belching or not, is a growing concern: Tailpipes are the No. 1 cause of air pollution and the problem is a health risk. For that reason, Utah has Vehicle Emissions Control, Inspection and Maintenance programs in five counties: Cache, Davis, Salt Lake, Utah and Weber administered by the local health departments.

Which brings us back to the smoke belchers: How do they get away with it? Absent any action, these vehicles might continue to operate and emit excessive pollution, potentially until the registration expires.

There are also ways to report these vehicles. You can call 385-GOT-SMOG. The Utah Department of Environmental Quality also has an electronic complaint form that is forwarded to the health departments who have jurisdiction over enforcement. And there’s also a relatively-new web site launched, with a grant from Utah Clean Air Partnership, aptly called utahsmokingvehicles.org that receives reports of smoking vehicles from around the state.

Local health authorities assure me that they follow up on it. There’s even a guidance document that’s used for responding to complaints.

Essentially, once a complaint is received, the local health department in the county where the vehicle is registered will notify the vehicle owner to get their vehicle inspected within 15 days of notification. If the registered owner does not, the local health department notifies DMV to revoke their registration. Owners can appeal to the Utah State Tax Commission.

Bob Nunn, environmental health scientists with Davis County Health Department, puts it this way:

“For complaints from the general public, the vehicle owner is sent a Letter of Information letting them know that they need to fix this emission problem. If the complainant is a police officer or a Health Department official, or if this is the second complaint from the general public received by our office, the vehicle owner will receive a Notice that requires them to bring the vehicle to the Davis County Testing Center in Kaysville.”

“Vehicle owners who do not bring the vehicle into the testing center are put onto a list that blocks the owner from having the vehicle tested at any station except our testing center in Kaysville. This block is countywide, and can extend to other jurisdictions if there is a need for us to share this information with neighboring Health Departments.”

Well maintained vehicles emit less pollution than those that are not serviced regularly. And newer vehicles run more efficiently than older ones. We all want clean air, and we all have a responsibility to make sure it is healthy.

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