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At DEQ, It’s Always Mission POSSIBLE

By The Fun Committee

mission possible

Nicole Pellicori sends a water balloon flying during the DEQ Picnic.

Our Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) employees don’t just “talk the talk” when it comes to our mission, vision, and values. We live it, individually and collectively, every day. We know that clean air, land, and water are important to the people of Utah, and we take our responsibility to safeguard these precious resources very seriously.

But we’re not always serious! Sometimes we need to reboot, clear our minds, and enjoy ourselves with our colleagues at our annual DEQ picnic.

This year, we wanted to focus on our DEQ “Mission, Vision and Values” as the theme for our annual picnic, so the DEQ Fun Committee (yes, that’s our committee’s name, and we’re proud of it!) decided to do a play on the Mission ImPossible theme. (Peter Graves for us older folks, and Tom Cruise for you millennials.) We chose this play-on-words because we believe our mission is ALWAYS possible, and we work hard every day to make sure we fulfill it.

Our mission (should we choose to accept it…and WE DO!) is “safeguarding and improving Utah’s air, land and water through balanced regulation.” This doesn’t happen by walking into work and sitting at a desk. It takes dedication, pride, and the right people—people who are willing to live our four values:

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

As part of our theme, we focused on our value of “Exceptional Service.” For us, exceptional service isn’t just about our customers and stakeholders, it’s also about the “service” we can provide to our communities through work-sponsored donation and service opportunities.


Our service project for the summer was “Fill-The-Cube.” Our “mission” was providing families at the Road Home Family Center in Midvale with needed clothing and supplies. We put out plastic bins on each floor for employees to place their donations. Each Friday, we unloaded the bins and placed the items in an empty cubicle on the second floor.  We were amazed by the generosity of our staff! By the end of the summer, the cubicle was filled to overflowing, and we had collected an additional $378 in cash donations for the Center.

mission possible

DEQ employees loading up the vans with donations to the Road Home

Early in the morning on the day of our picnic, DEQ employees packed all the donations into two large vans. When we arrived at the Center, the children were already waiting for the school bus. The coordinator came up to us and thanked us for providing the children with school clothes and other needed items for their families. We even filled up all their donation bins!! It was so rewarding to see that we were able to make a difference.

Commitment to Employees

One of our DEQ values is “Commitment to Employees.” While that usually entails professional development, employee support, and training opportunities, our Executive Director Alan Matheson thinks it’s important for us to have fun, too! The picnic is a great way for us to come together as a department and not worry about the normal responsibilities we face every day. When you work that hard, you also need to be able to relax and enjoy each other’s company.

mission possible

The picnic was a combination of great food, fun games, and time spent together in a beautiful place. As you can see from the pictures, we really enjoy being with each other! After months of drafting permits, attending meetings, and collecting water samples, we can still kick back with a friendly game of horseshoes, a competitive game of kickball, and a take-no-prisoners water-balloon fight. And who knew how exciting playing bingo could be? Best of all, our Fun Committee was able to make this all happen on a very tight budget.

mission possible

Jodi Gardberg doesn’t mess around when she’s playing kickball

Thanks to the support of so many, we were able to have this amazing picnic and put a service project together that was such a great blessing to the shelter. When our employees see a need — whether it’s finding ways to improve our air, land, and water, or helping those in our community — we  meet it head on!

mission possible

Scott Baird takes aim at the photographer

Thanks to all the DEQ employees who contributed to our Fill-the-Cube service project and brought their sense of play and good humor to our picnic!
mission possible

Marie Owens frightens Alan Matheson with her T-shirt.

The Fun Committee:
  • Elisa Smith (Division of Environmental Response and Remediation)  
  • Deborah Ng (Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control)  
  • Arlene Lovato (Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control)  
  • Dyani Wood (Division of Drinking Water)
  • Gary Kobzeff (Division of Drinking Water)  
  • Jay Baker (Division of Air Quality) 
  • Nicole Pellicori (Finance) 
  • Laurie Leib (Finance)  
  • Jodie Swanson (DEQ Web Team)
  • Catherine Llewelyn (DEQ Front Desk) 
  • Jenny Potter (Executive Director’s Office) 




This entry was originally published on September 18th, 2017 and posted in news.

Ozone: Dog Days of Summer Have Us All Panting For Cleaner Air

By Donna Kemp Spangler

Many people have said to me this summer, “It seems like we’ve had a lot of unhealthy air days.” Turns out, it’s true. Utah is experiencing the worst air pollution, particularly ozone, in a decade. Record heat and massive wildfires have taken their toll on Utah’s air. As a result, the Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality (DAQ) is seeing some of the highest number of exceedances of the federal ozone standard in the last ten years.




DAQ monitors and records the federal ozone standard, set at 70 parts per billion (ppb), over an eight-hour period. When that standard is violated on any given day, it is recorded as an “exceedance.” As of Labor Day 2017, Salt Lake County has had more non-compliance days (22) since 2007 (40). Davis County has nearly set its record of 15, last seen in 2008. Only Utah County has seen a slight decline in ozone this year.




Ozone occurs as a chemical reaction between oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds – emissions largely from motor vehicles, but also consumer products, gasoline-powered lawn equipment, and industrial sources. During the summer, these chemicals react with sunlight to create ozone, and as temperatures change throughout the day, so do the levels of ozone. Subtle changes can move the ozone needle either above or below the healthy mark. Ozone can be harmful to sensitive populations, such as individuals with lung disease or asthma, children and older adults. On days when the ozone is higher than the federal standard, sensitive groups are cautioned to reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion. But on occasion, the levels are so unhealthy, everyone should heed the warnings.

If there is a silver lining to this bad year, the trends show that the air is improving, thanks to several notable steps, including:

  • Encouraging refineries to produce cleaner “Tier 3”
  • Enacting 30 new rules that reduce emissions from the “area sources” that contribute 39 percent of our air pollution. As an example, one of those regulations requires that consumer products sold in Utah be formulated to reduce air-polluting components. This step will remove 2,000 tons of pollutants from our air annually.
  • Urging the public to drive less or use public transit.

The tricky thing about ozone is it’s invisible. You can’t judge the air quality just by how it looks. Just because it looks hazy, doesn’t necessarily mean the air quality conditions are unhealthy. That’s why it’s important to check the quality of air each day by going to DAQ’s web page. You can learn more about what you can do to protect your health and improve Utah’s air by visiting UCAIR or Utah Clean Air Partnership.

As bad as it’s been, relief is in sight. Cooler temps can give us a respite before the upcoming winter inversion season hits. In the meantime, don’t take air quality for granted. On a clear and healthy day, share a picture on Instagram, and tag DEQ.

Donna SpanglerI am the Communications Director for DEQ and a former reporter for the Deseret News. I am a frequent blog contributor. You can read my previous blog posts at You can follow me on Twitter @deqdonna

This entry was originally published on September 11th, 2017, updated on September 11th, 2017, and posted in news.

Utah Celebrates Ten Years of “Idle-Free”

By Tammie Bostick-Cooper, Guest Blogger

idle freeSeptember marks the 10th year of the Idle-Free Governor’s Declaration in Utah. Our state had the first Idle-Free campaign in the nation, and it all started in Salt Lake City. Since 2007, more than 50 Utah mayors have signed the declaration. And in 2011, Salt Lake City–where it all began–became the second city in Utah to adopt an Idle-Free ordinance.

The “Idle-Free in Utah” Declaration plays an important role in the progress being made towards cleaner air in the state. Idling vehicles emit particulate matter and other pollutants that are known to cause serious health problems. Vehicle exhaust makes up about half of the air pollution in Utah, and unnecessary idling contributes a significant amount of emissions into our air shed each day.

Air quality is a complex issue. There is no “silver bullet” solution to solving our air-pollution challenges. The Idle-Free Campaign helps each of us understand the importance of taking small steps to help to clean the air. It also helps us understand that each action we can take, however small it may seem, combines with the actions that others take to make real improvement.

Our state leadership paved the way for Idle Free over the past ten years. In 2008, Representative Christine Johnson and Senator Mike Dmitrich sponsored House Bill 146, which required the State Board of Education, in consultation with local school districts and the State Air Quality Board, to implement an idling-reduction program for all school-bus drivers in the state and adopt idling reduction standards in their operations. In 2010, Representative Carol Spackman Moss and Senator Patricia Jones sponsored House Joint Resolution 5, encouraging drivers of passenger vehicles to avoid idling for more than 10-15 seconds. This resolution also encouraged drivers of delivery vehicles and long-haul truck operators to use one of several available idle-control technologies, such as auxiliary power units and truck stop electrification, to reduce the need to idle in our unique climate. Legislation like this encourages business owners to post anti-idling signage and information for their customers to refrain from idling.

Idle freeWith support from this legislation, Utah Clean Cities, all Utah School Districts, and the Utah State Board of Education developed and put into place a school-bus idling-reduction program and elementary-student education plan to inform youth and the general public about the benefits of reduced idling. The Idle-Free Education Program, developed by Utah Clean Cities, Breathe Utah, and the Utah Society for Environmental Education and the State Health Department’s Asthma Program and Recess Guide, has reached more than 10,000 students across 400 schools.

This month we not only start the 10th Idle-Free Campaign but also Utah’s official Idle-Free Season, the time of year when we experience winter inversions and poor air quality.

You may ask yourself as an individual, as a member of your community and a citizen of the state of Utah what can you do? It’s simple. Turn Your Key, Be Idle Free. It’s a ten second commitment and everyone can do it. We are all in this together.

Join us at our anniversary event on Wednesday, September 6th at 9 a.m. at the Utah State Capitol! The event will highlight idle-free milestones, led by the State Board of Education with idle-free bus policies, and recognize the first Utah Cities to be Idle-Free: Park City, Salt Lake City, Alta, Holladay, Logan, Cottonwood Heights, and Murray. Hope to see you there!
Other significant successes will be celebrated across the state with local Idle-Free campaigns at schools, government entities, businesses, fleets, and communities.

I am the Executive Director of the Utah Clean Cities Coalition, joining UCC in 2015 as the Northern Coordinator. I consider my career at Utah Clean Cities a dream job of collaborative work, thinking globally and acting locally in a world where everyone is an ally. I believe there has never been a more compelling time to be involved with transportation and to answer the urgent call to change our dependence on imported fossil fuels. There are no perfect fuels, but there are practical solutions leading to them.

I grew up ranching and close to nature. I graduated from the University of Utah and worked with children on the Ute Indian Reservation. I raised two smart and capable children, Alexia and Cole Cooper, in a small, off-the-grid cabin in the high Uintas. Both attend Westminster College in Salt Lake. 

This entry was originally published on September 5th, 2017, updated on September 12th, 2017, and posted in news.

ULend Program Helps Oil and Gas Operators Reduce Emissions

By Whitney Oswald

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ’s) Division of Air Quality (DAQ) believes sound science leads to good decisions and effective regulations. That’s why we conduct research on complex air-quality issues — to identify causes and find solutions.

For example, we’ve seen an increase in winter ozone levels in the Uinta Basin in recent years, and that increase appears to be tied to the growth in oil-and-gas operations in the region. We know oil-and-gas facilities emit ozone precursors like volatile organic compounds (VOCs), but we want to target the sources of these precursors using the right tools.

Our research shows that using an infrared (IR) camera to find equipment leaks can help reduce the fugitive VOC emissions that contribute to the formation of ozone, and that’s the idea behind the new ULend program. By loaning a state-of-the-art IR camera to operators — particularly small oil-and-gas producers who might not be able to afford the kind of expensive equipment that could help them identify and repair VOC leaks early — ULend can help reduce emissions, reduce costs, and improve compliance.

VOC Leaks at Oil and Gas Operations

In 2016, the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) received legislative funding for the Storage Tank Emissions Pilot Project (STEPP), a collaborative program that used an infrared (IR) camera to check for leaks in oil and gas tanks in the Uinta Basin. The research showed that almost 40 percent of the more than 400 well pads visited had some type of VOC leak. While these leaks are not the only source of VOC emissions in the Basin, they may make a significant contribution to elevated ozone levels during winter inversions.

Based on these research findings, the 2017 Utah Legislature appropriated $200,000 in air-quality research money to fund the ULend program, providing oil-and-gas operators with a practical way to reduce VOC leaks at their facilities.

ULend program

IR cameras are an effective and efficient technology for detecting VOC leaks in oil-and-gas equipment.

ULend Program Benefits

Product leaks at oil-and-gas facilities can be difficult to detect. IR cameras offer a proven technology for locating hard-to-find leaks, but the cameras can be prohibitively expensive for small operators. Under the program, companies can get certified in optical gas-imaging (OGI) and borrow an IR camera. The program benefits operators in a number of ways:

  • While many leaks at oil and gas operations are relatively easy to repair, they can be difficult to see. An IR camera helps operators locate fugitive VOC emissions that are not normally visible to the naked eye.
  • Operators can inspect their own sites with an IR camera to identify and repair leaks. This proactive approach minimizes leaks that have the potential to become a compliance issue.
  • DAQ will be able to use the information provided by program participants to increase its understanding of the source(s) and frequency of leaks. Repair data will help ensure that DEQ regulations target fugitive VOC emissions in an appropriate, cost-effective manner.
ULend program

Infrared cameras can “see” leaks that aren’t visible to the naked eye.

Program Features

The ULend program alleviates much of the cost burden associated with leak-detection programs. Companies can forego the purchase of a $100,000 IR camera as well as the added cost of hiring a camera contractor (about $7,000/week) since ULend will provide training in the camera’s use to program participants.

Operators utilizing the borrowed cameras will be asked to share some simple data — basic facility information, date of site visit, specific leak location, how the leak was addressed, and associated costs — with DAQ. These data will be used solely for research purposes, not compliance actions.

Collaborative Effort, Positive Outcomes

The ULend program is a great example of what can be accomplished when industry and government work together. DAQ has partnered with Utah State University, the Bingham Research Center, and the Tri-County Health Department for this project, with additional support from the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR).

This partnership will yield some important benefits to operators:

  • Industry will save money by reducing the amount of saleable product lost from equipment leaks.
  • Increases in compliance will decrease costs for industry and DAQ’s air–quality compliance program.
  • Data collected through the program will help DAQ craft targeted regulations that are effective at reducing VOC emissions without applying an undue or unnecessary burden on the oil and gas industry.

These kinds of cooperative efforts help us develop innovative and effective ways to reduce the area’s VOC emissions. Fewer emissions mean lower ozone levels and better air quality for Basin residents at a lower cost to operators. And those are outcomes we can all get behind.

Want to learn more about the ULend program? Visit us at! If you’re interested in participating in the Ulend program, sign up on our website to be added to our contact list. We will be in touch with you when the program begins this fall.

I am an environmental scientist with the Technical Analysis section at DAQ. I have a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Utah State University and a master’s degree in environmental science from the University of Utah. When not working, I love traveling and spending time outdoors with my husband and two dogs.


This entry was originally published on August 28th, 2017, updated on August 28th, 2017, and posted in news.

“Turn Your Key, Be Idle Free” for Our Kids this School Year

By Vicki Bennett, Guest Blogger

Idle free kidsDEQ 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.

The sights and smells of back-to-school are here: new pencils and paper, first-day clothes, and the hint of fall in the air. It’s an exciting time for many kids, parents, and teachers as we enter another year and get back into the school day routine.

And with the return of that familiar routine, we’d like to encourage you to be Idle Free. Whether dropping off the kids or running errands around town, one thing we can all do to improve air quality is to “Turn the Key and Be Idle Free.”

It’s easy. If you’re stopped for more than ten seconds, turn the engine off.

This simple act can make a tremendous difference for our air quality — and our kids’ health.

Vehicle exhaust makes up over half of the air pollution in Utah, and unnecessary idling of cars and buses contribute a significant amount of emissions released into the air each day.

Click on image for a larger view

Children’s developing lungs take in 50 percent more air per pound of body weight than adults. This means they’re more susceptible to respiratory problems like asthma than adults.

To make matters worse, idling vehicles put out more pollution than moving vehicles because engines are designed to operate most efficiently when warm. Idling also generates hot spots of pollution—something we don’t want to create in exactly the places our children spend most of their day.

This September, Salt Lake City is proud to celebrate the ten year anniversary of Utah’s Idle-Free Declaration. Salt Lake City was also the second city in Utah to adopt an Idle-Free Ordinance, passed in 2011.

The ordinance prohibits unnecessary vehicle idling over two minutes within city limits.

Though idling may seem like a minor action in moving towards cleaner air, small and incremental changes in individual actions do make a collective difference. That’s something we can all get behind this school year!

Back-to-school season offers us all the opportunity to start or cement healthy habits. Join with me in committing to be Idle-Free. You can visit our Idle Free Ordinance website for resources on how to spread the word at your child’s school or whenever you see a vehicle idling unnecessarily. To learn more about the health effects of idling, visit DEQ’s Anti-Idle webpage

I am the Sustainability Director for Salt Lake City, working with both city agencies and the public to create a more livable community. I hold a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of California at San Diego and an Executive MBA from the University of Utah. I have over 30 years of experience, with an emphasis on sustainability planning, climate change mitigation and adaptation, energy policy, food security, waste diversion, and environmental management. I’ve led Salt Lake City’s award-winning Salt Lake City Green sustainability program for 16 years, which has integrated sustainability throughout the city and governmental operations. My background includes working in industry, consulting, and government. I am a founding member of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, and I also founded and lead the Western Adaptation Alliance, a group of western cities working together on climate planning. 


This entry was originally published on August 21st, 2017, updated on August 30th, 2017, and posted in news.

A Look Back: On the Scene after the Gold King Mine Spill

Interview with Ben Brown

This week, we take a look back at DEQ’s response to the Gold King Mine release two years ago. On August 5, 2015, EPA contractors were clearing debris from the opening of the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, when the blockage gave way, releasing three million gallons of acid mine drainage into the Animas River. 

Ben Brown,  an environmental scientist in the Division of Water Quality (DWQ) Monitoring Section, was one of the first on the scene at the spill’s expected point of entry into Utah. He relates what happened next in this 2015 interview.

How was the decision made to sample the river after the spill?

It wasn’t a question of whether the plume would reach Utah, it was more a question of when. DWQ Spills Coordinator Doug Wong has already arrived at the San Juan River on Friday, August 7th, but we needed more water scientists onsite to begin sampling. I consulted with Erica Gaddis (who is now the Division Director of DWQ) about sampling locations late Friday night, prepped my truck and gear, went home, and headed to the river early Saturday morning.

How did you decide where to sample?

We needed consistent sampling locations to accurately assess the impact of the plume on the river. We looked for sites that we had sampled before so we would have some historical data. We also chose sites that were fairly accessible and located spatially along the path the plume would travel so we could capture any impacts from the plume over time. Three of the four sites had historical DWQ data, and the fourth site filled the gap between the other sites.

What were you looking for?
DWQ's Ben Brown sampling the San Juan River.

DWQ’s Ben Brown sampling the San Juan River.

A couple of things. We needed sampling data before the plume arrived so we would have a baseline for comparison. The San Juan was really muddy from recent rains, so we probably weren’t going to be able to “see” the plume when it arrived. We tested the river’s pH since it would likely become more acidic once the plume arrived, and a change in pH at our sampling site at the state line could help us determine when the plume reached Utah. Mine drainage contains heavy metals, so we tested for total and dissolved metals and took sediment samples along with a few other general water chemistry tests. We did the chemical tests in the field, measured and recorded instantaneous field readings at the site, labeled the bottles, and kept them on ice for transport.

What were some of the challenges?

Well, when you go out into the field in an emergency situation, you don’t know how long you will be there or how much equipment to bring. I took down a lot of sampling bottles, a cooler and ice to keep the samples at a consistent temperature, a hydrolab probe for real-time readings, a flow measuring device, safety-grade chains, a calibration solution, a pump to pump water for filtering, chemical tests for field evaluations, waders, gloves. Even with all that preparation, we still ran out of bottles because we were down there longer than we expected. Fortunately, my coworkers were traveling back and forth from Salt Lake constantly, so we were able to get supplies when we ran out.

Ben Brown SamplingBecause the sites were fairly remote and spread out, we spent a lot of our time driving down rough roads simply to get to the sites. We visited the four sites two times a day, took samples, took photos of the site each time we sampled, prepped and processed samples, and checked the hydrolab probe. We had a lot of 12-hour days.

Communication was a real problem, because we were often out of cell range and reception was spotty at best. We had storm events while we were there, and the resulting flooding washed sediment from tributaries into the San Juan, complicating our sampling efforts and sampling results. On the upside, the high flows probably helped dilute the metals in the plume.

How did you get the samples back so quickly?

A DWQ scientist drove down each day, stayed the night, and another member of our monitoring crew would get up the next morning and drive back to Salt Lake so the lab would have the samples by early afternoon. We repeated this process for over a week. The Department of Safety offered us the use of their plane to fly samples up to Salt Lake, and that was a huge help.

What was the experience like for you?

I love that area of the state, and I’ve floated the San Juan many times on my own time. In fact, one of the reasons I was sent down to sample was my familiarity with the area. It certainly gave me a different perspective of the river, which I’ve seen running blue and clear this time of year. The storms carried a lot of sediment into the river, so it wasn’t what I expected.

The experience was exciting in many ways, and it gave me an opportunity to use my knowledge and monitoring skills to respond to an emergency situation. The team at DWQ did a great job coordinating the sampling and the arrangements for sample pickup, so I felt like we had the support we needed to get the job done. Overall, it was unique and rewarding experience, and I was glad I was a part of it.

Visit DEQ’s Gold King Mine webpage for more information about the spill and its aftermath.

Ben BrownI have worked in the DWQ Monitoring Section for 12½ years as an Environmental Scientist.  My primary role is to coordinate statewide field sampling programs. Some of the key field projects I facilitate include the Utah Comprehensive Assessment of Stream Ecosystems (UCASE), National Aquatic Resource Surveys (NARS), Ambient Water Quality Intensive surveys, and the Fish Tissue Contamination Program. I have a degree in environmental studies with an emphasis in watershed science and a minor in wildlife biology from the University of Montana.  I was born and raised in Utah and currently live in Kamas where I have plenty of access to enjoy the outdoors.  Most of my time away from work involves being outside where I enjoy backpacking, hiking, rafting, skiing, hunting, snowmobiling, ice-fishing, camping, gardening, and landscaping.  I feel very fortunate to have a job that lets me travel the beautiful state of Utah and gives me an opportunity to work on a wide array of water-quality issues.  


This entry was originally published on August 14th, 2017, updated on September 12th, 2017, and posted in news.