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The Toxic Release Inventory (TRI): What It Means, How It’s Used

By DEQ Communications Office

Mining materials account for the largest proportion of TRI “releases” in Utah. Photo courtesy Flickr Creative Commons, photographer NewsRover.

The Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) is a public database that chronicles toxic chemical releases, transfers, waste management, and pollution-prevention activities throughout the United States. A recent Forbes article ranked Utah as the third-highest state in the country for toxic releases based on data in the TRI for the reporting year (RY) 2015. These same data ranked Salt Lake County #2 in the nation for total pounds of toxic chemicals released into the environment.

While these rankings may appear alarming at first, the numbers don’t tell the whole story, including what qualifies as a “release” and whether a release poses a health risk to the public. TRI information is most useful when it’s presented in context, including the health effects of the chemical, how the chemical is managed, and whether a relevant human exposure is likely.

DEQ’s Goal: Fewer Toxic Releases

The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) takes toxic releases very seriously and works within its regulatory authority to reduce or eliminate chemical releases to the environment.

The TRI is one of the resources we use to track toxic chemical releases and pollution-prevention activities in the state. These data provide us with a starting point for assessing environmental conditions and potential risks to residents. We analyze the TRI to ensure that facilities are meeting their permit limits, make permitting adjustments if releases pose a risk to human health and the environment, and work with industry to reduce the amount of waste generated and implement safer waste-management alternatives.

We know that the public is interested in the information contained in these reports, so we make TRI report data easy to access on our website and Interactive Map.

But what does the TRI really tell us about pollutants in Utah, and what are the benefits and limitations of this information?

The Toxic Release Inventory (TRI)

Congress passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) in 1986 in response to concerns about the environmental and safety hazards posed by the storage and handling of toxic chemicals after the disastrous gas leak in Bhopal, India, in 1984. Community Right-to-Know provisions increase the public’s knowledge and access to information on chemicals at individual facilities, their uses, and releases into the environment. States and communities, working with facilities, use the information to improve chemical safety and protect public health and the environment. Section 313 of the Act requires facilities to report their releases to state officials each year.

The TRI tracks the management of certain toxic chemicals that may pose a threat to human health and the environment. Approximately 695 chemicals and chemical categories are included in the reporting list, based on acute or chronic human-health or environmental effects. Facilities that manufacture, process, or otherwise use these chemicals in amounts above established levels must report how they manage each chemical. The information submitted by facilities to the EPA and states is compiled and stored in a publicly accessible database. U.S. facilities in different industry sectors must submit an annual report on:

  • The amount of each listed chemical released to the air, water, or soil
  • The amount of each listed chemical recycled, treated, or disposed
  • Source reduction activities undertaken to prevent pollution

Note: materials on the TRI are “released” when the company that produces or processes them emits them into the air or water or disposes of them in a landfill or similar holding facility.

Benefits and Uses of TRI Data

While TRI data don’t provide a complete picture of the potential impacts of toxic releases, they offer critical information that helps the public, government, and industry make informed decisions about pollutant releases in their communities and prepare for possible toxic releases. For example:

  • The public can use TRI data to identify potential concerns
  • Governments can use TRI data to compare facilities, identify hot spots, evaluate environmental programs, and establish regulatory priorities
  • Industry can use TRI data to establish reduction targets and document progress in reducing chemical releases

Limitations of TRI Data

While the TRI provides data on the annual pounds of each chemical released, transferred, or managed in the state, it misses some important information:

  • How toxic are the chemicals?
  • What happens to the chemicals in the environment?
  • Are people exposed? And if so, what is the potential risk?

The TRI reports releases, not exposures

Release estimates alone are not sufficient to determine exposure, risk of exposure, or calculate potential adverse human health or environmental effects. TRI data do not reveal whether or to what degree the public is exposed to the listed chemicals. TRI data can, in conjunction with other information, be used as a starting point for evaluating exposures and the risks posed by such exposures. The determination of potential risk to human health and/or the environment depends upon many factors, including the toxicity of the chemical, the fate of the chemical in the environment, and the amount and duration of human or other exposure to the chemical.

The EPA uses a Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI) model to identify potential health-related impacts of toxic releases from facilities that report to the TRI. The RSEI model provides additional data on environmental fate, exposure, and toxicity information. While the RSEI offers screening information about relative potential for risk, it cannot determine individual exposure or actual risk.

The TRI doesn’t report concentrations

TRI emission totals do not include information on the concentration of chemicals in air, water, or wastes placed on land. A large release may be at a low concentration, and a small release may have a relatively high concentration that makes it more toxic than a larger release. For example, the TRI lists all rock overburden and tailings moved during mining operations as a “release,” so any region with mining operations will rank very high on the list. Mining states with large active mines such as Alaska, Nevada, and Utah have large TRI reporting values, even when the “release” of heavy metals is often still trapped in the rock.

TRI releases are often permitted by state or federal law

TRI releases are often permitted by state or federal environmental agencies after an evaluation concludes that the release will not adversely affect human health or the environment.

TRI Numbers for Utah

About 20 years ago, EPA started listing mine overburden as a release, even though the minerals are still locked in the rock, the material remains on the mine property, and the overburden is subject to stabilization and monitoring. As the graph below demonstrates, 98 percent of Utah’s TRI pollutants are lead and copper compounds in mining overburden.

Toxic Release Inventory (TRI)

Click on graph for a larger view


Kennecott’s movement of mining materials — including waste rock overburden and tailings transported and released within the tailings impoundment — account for a disproportionate amount of the releases reported in the TRI for Utah. More importantly, these toxic “releases” are primarily from land disposal within Kennecott’s permitted facility.

Utah’s TRI numbers will always be high because Kennecott moves large quantities of material each year, and the TRI reports releases in terms of pounds. But that doesn’t mean our residents are necessarily at greater risk. The mining materials at Kennecott contain low concentrations of heavy metals and are subject to permits that require the materials be managed to minimize health impacts.

It’s important to note that TRI totals do not include information on the concentration of the toxics in mining materials. A “large” release under the TRI— measured by the volume of the release (think enormous rocks and large piles of mine overburden) — may in fact contain a small concentration of toxic chemicals. One of the limitations of the TRI is that pounds reported don’t equate to the concentration of chemicals in material, nor do these reported “releases” necessarily result in exposure to the public. In addition, it’s important to remember that the majority of releases, such as those at Kennecott, include properly permitted activities allowable under federal law.

The report also includes waste disposed at commercial facilities, and air emissions from facilities such as US Magnesium and refineries such as Tesoro, Holly, and Chevron. According to EPA’s Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI) model analysis of the impacts from TRI releases to air and water reported in 2015, Utah’s RSEI Score ranked 27 out of 56 ranked states and territories. So absent the relocation of solid materials, Utah ranks in the middle nationally for air and water releases.

Total onsite and offsite release amounts from all facilities reporting TRI in Utah increased by 9.7 percent in RY 2015. Total chemical releases to air increased by 30 percent, with total chemical releases to land increasing by 9.7 percent and total chemical releases to water decreasing by 12.8 percent. As the graph below shows, even with these increases, Utah releases are relatively consistent over time. (Note: the large increase in 2013 was due to an 94 percent increase in material moved at Kennecott that reporting year, higher metals concentrations in the ore and waste rock, and a “one-time only” release when the heap leach pad closed).

Toxic Release Inventory (TRI)

Click on graph for a larger view

It is important to note that TRI reporting does not include criteria air pollutants such as PM2.5, since they aren’t categorized as toxic air pollutants. Air toxics, also know as hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), are regulated through National Emission Standards for HAPs (NESHAP).

TRI and Pollution Prevention

The EPA also uses TRI data to track progress in waste reduction to reduce chemical releases. Under the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990, TRI collects information to track industry progress in reducing waste generation and moving towards safer waste management alternatives. Many facilities include measures they have taken to prevent pollution and reduce the amount of toxic chemicals entering the environment in their TRI reporting. In this way, the TRI serves as a tool for identifying effective environmental practices and highlighting pollution prevention successes.

DEQ’s Pollution Prevention (P2) Program supports these efforts by working with businesses to eliminate waste at the source, reduce the amount and toxicity of waste, reuse the waste in their processes, or recycle waste.

A Look Forward

Our mission to safeguard Utah’s air, land, and water through balanced regulation is one we take very seriously. DEQ will continue to work with industry and citizens to reduce toxic releases to protect the health and safety of Utah residents. We encourage your questions and feedback on the TRI and the releases reported in the TRI from the facilities we regulate.

Sources for this blog include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Want to learn more about the TRI program in Utah? Check out our website for TRI data summary reports for RY 2000-2015 and a fact sheet with frequently asked questions about the TRI.
Additional information on TRI facilities can be found on the DEQ Interactive Map. Go to “Select Query Layers” on the right-hand side and choose “Environmental Response and Remediation.” Scroll down the dropdown menu until you find “Toxic Release Inventory.” Click on the box. You’ll see a tab below the dropdown menu that asks you to “Define Search Criteria.” Under “Select Search Type,” you’ll find another dropdown menu that lets you search by street address, city, county, or statewide. Once you hit “Search,” you’ll see a map with blue dots for each TRI reporting facility. Click on a dot for more information about the site, including links and related records (you’ll find these search options on the bottom right-hand side of the webpage).


This entry was originally published on December 4th, 2017, updated on December 8th, 2017, and posted in news.

Water Quality and Macroinvertebrates: A Story under Every Rock

By Amy Dickey

What’s the first thing most people do when they walk up to a stream? Perhaps they feel it to check the temperature. Maybe they toss a stick and see how far downstream the water carries it, or cast a line to see if the fish are biting. I prefer to grab a submerged rock, flip it in my hand and see what’s happening underneath. Fortunately for me, this is sometimes part of my job.


The Division of Water Quality (DWQ) assesses waters of the state for numerous parameters…metals, pH, temperature, bacteria, and more. It’s important to know the condition of the rivers and lakes around Utah so we can work to improve those that fall short of meeting water-quality standards. The standards are in place to protect for various uses including drinking water, recreation, fisheries, irrigation, and stock watering.



One way of assessing the health of a waterbody is to look at what macroinvertebrates are present and in what numbers. Benthic macroinvertebrates are small animals living among the sediments and rocks on the bottom of streams, rivers, and lakes. Insects comprise the largest diversity of these organisms and include mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies, beetles, midges, crane flies, and dragonflies. Other members of the benthic macroinvertebrate community are snails, clams, aquatic worms, and crayfish. They are extremely important in the food chain of aquatic environments for fish and waterfowl.

While water chemistry samples are a good spot-check on an aquatic ecosystem to see what the condition is at the moment when the bottle is filled up and sent to a laboratory for analysis, macroinvertebrate populations can be a more accurate indicator of the overall quality of the water. Macroinvertebrates thrive under specific conditions, such as a certain range of pH, water temperature and dissolved oxygen concentrations. Some are quite tolerant of pollutants in the system, and others not so much. Additionally, although most macroinvertebrates live few months to a year in a waterbody, some can live up to three years and beyond, which gives DWQ a much better picture of what’s happening in the waterbody long before (and after) we dip the bottle for a sample.



Biological data are important in determining aquatic life beneficial-use support. DWQ has developed a model that assesses biological beneficial uses by quantifying the health of aquatic macroinvertebrate populations. Biological assessments compare the macroinvertebrates collected at a waterbody location to reference locations–places with limited human disturbance. DWQ employs the RIVPACS model (River Invertebrate Prediction and Classification System) to assess biological integrity. To quantify the biological condition of a certain waterbody, the model compares the presence of observed species (O) at a site to a list of expected species (E) that would be present in the absence of pollutant or habitat alterations. Waterbodies with low scores are included on the Utah 303(d) list of “impaired” waterbodies and targeted for studies to determine why they fail to support robust macroinvertebrate populations.

So next time you head out to your favorite river or reservoir in Utah, remember there’s often more than meets the eye, and those creepy critters under the rocks and in the mud can help tell the story.

Amy DickeyI have worked with the Utah Division of Water Quality for 16 years. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and Environmental Studies. When I’m not working, I love to get outside and enjoy all that Utah has to offer. I especially enjoy camping with my husband and two kids.

This entry was originally published on November 27th, 2017, updated on November 27th, 2017, and posted in news.

Air Quality: My Top Ten List for Better Air

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.

(And no, Phil, it’s not Smaug, it’s smog. )

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 You can follow me on Twitter @deqdonna

This entry was originally published on November 20th, 2017, updated on November 20th, 2017, and posted in news.

May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor: Test Your Home for Radon Today

By Eleanor Divver

You’ve probably heard about radon in the news, or maybe from a friend or neighbor. You may know that radon is a radioactive, cancer-causing gas. You may even know that it is the number-one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.

(You undoubtedly know that NASA didn’t bring it back from the moon, but it may be difficult to convince Phil of that.)

But while many people are aware that radon in their home poses a serious health hazard, they may think that testing and mitigating for radon is difficult or prohibitively expensive (it’s not). Besides, what are the odds that your house would test high for radon?

Depending on where you live in Utah, the odds aren’t necessarily in your favor. One out of three homes in Utah test above the radon action level of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air, and in some areas of Utah, one out of two homes test above the action level. In fact, the average radon level in homes tested in Utah is an unhealthy 5.3 pCi/L of air.

Reasons to test – and retest – for radon

A family moved into their dream home in Salt Lake City 15 years ago and tested their home for radon. The home’s radon levels were below the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) radon action level. The family started remodeling and never thought about radon again until the ER visit where they discovered that the wife and mother of the family had Stage 4 Lung Cancer. But she never smoked—how was this possible?

They re-tested the home and discovered the radon levels were very high—so high that it was like smoking three packs of cigarettes per day. How did this happen? Well, radon comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil and rock. So when the family remodeled their home, they inadvertently created an opening in their foundation that allowed radon gas in the soil to enter their home.

How to test  your home for radon

Testing your home is easy and inexpensive. Test kits are available online for $9 for Utah residents.

The quickest way to test is through a short-term test that remains in your home for about two days. Some general instructions:

  • Close your windows and outside doors and keep them closed as much as possible during the test.
  • Place the test kit in the lowest, lived-in level of the home, such as basement. The kit should be put in a room that is used regularly like a living room, playroom, den or bedroom, but not your kitchen or bathroom.
  • Place the kit at least 20 inches above the floor in a location where it won’t be disturbed, away from drafts, high heat, high humidity, and exterior walls. Leave the kit in place for as long as the package says.
  • Reseal the package once you’ve finished the test and send it right away for analysis to the lab specified on the package. You should receive your results within a few weeks.

How to mitigate your home for radon

Learning that you have elevated radon levels in your home can be upsetting, but fixing the problem is easier and less expensive than you may think.

Hire a certified mitigator

Certified mitigators have the technical knowledge to reduce radon levels in your home safely and effectively, so it’s critical that you hire a trained contractor who is certified in radon mitigation. Go to our radon website and click on the Certified Mitigator link.

Get three bids from the NRPP/AARST list

If you solicit at least three bids, you will have a good idea of the general price range of mitigation services. You may want to choose a contractor located close to your house or go with the lowest price.

Weigh your cost options

Your contractor will usually recommend an active mitigation system either inside your home or outside the house. Since every home is different, one option may work better for you than the other. The cost should be around $1500.

Get a signed contract

The mitigator should sign a contract that he or she will get the levels at or below 2.7 pCi/L of air. If he or she is not willing to do this, don’t use them.

Test your home for radon after the system is installed

The contractor will give you a test kit to check the radon levels in your home after the mitigation system has been running for 24 hours. Certified mitigators guarantee their work, so they will return to your home and make adjustments to your system if the levels don’t fall below the 2.7 pCi/L threshold.

Check your radon mitigation system regularly after installation

You can tell if your mitigation system is working properly by checking the manometer installed by the contractor. The manometer measures the vacuum pressure inside the system, letting you know if the system is on and the fan is working. We recommend that you test your home every two years, even with a mitigation system, to make sure that the system is still functioning properly.

Your ongoing costs will be relatively minimal after installation. You’ll pay about $6 to $8 per month on your utility bill, and you will need to replace the fan after about 15 years. If you or a family member needs financial assistance and you live in Salt Lake County, Green and Healthy Homes has funding available to help qualifying families pay for the costs of mitigation.

We hope this article takes some of the mystery out of radon and radon mitigation. And remember, to protect yourself and your family, test your home for radon today.

We have $9 test kits available for Utah residents. Testing is easy, and you’ll get your results back quickly. If you have further questions about radon or radon mitigation systems, please call me at 801-536-0091.

Radon Gas

I have worked in the radon field for 18 years, most recently as the radon coordinator for the Department of Environmental Quality. I enjoy being outdoors with my family and golden retriever.

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

UCAIR Isn’t Blowing Smoke with Its Wood Stove Exchange Program

By Bailey Toolson, 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.

Governor Gary Herbert announces the UCAIR Wood Stove exchange program flanked by cleaner-burning gas-powered stoves.

Governor Gary Herbert announces the UCAIR Wood Stove exchange program flanked by cleaner-burning gas-powered stoves


Our mission at UCAIR is to make it easier for individuals, businesses, and communities to make changes that improve our air. We know that every change, no matter how small, brings us one step closer to our goal of clean air in Utah. In the spirit of our mission, UCAIR, with generous support from Chevron, Andeavor, and the Eccles Foundation, is proud to announce the Show UCAIR Wood Stove Exchange. This incentive program is entirely voluntary and not linked to any rule or ordinance.

Wood smoke from residential burning is a significant contributor to the Wasatch Front’s winter-time inversions. Smoke from wood-burning fireplaces, stoves, and inserts contains a wide variety of pollutants, including fine particulate matter or PM2.5. Recent research by state scientists indicates that, on average, 16 percent of the particulate pollution in the Salt Lake Valley can be attributed to wood smoke. The percentage is even higher in Utah County, where 21 percent of particulate pollution can be attributed to wood smoke.

Through this program, UCAIR will be able to exchange 80 wood-burning stoves and inserts for cleaner gas-burning appliances. Exchanging a wood-burning appliance for a gas appliance provides a 95 percent reduction in emissions. The average life of a gas stove is 40 years, so over the lifetime of these 80 stoves, there will be a 150-ton emission reduction from the air we breathe!

Wood stove exchange

UCAIR Executive Director Thom Carter

UCAIR was honored to launch the Show UCAIR Wood Stove Exchange on November 1, 2017, with Governor Herbert and our sponsors, Andeavor and Chevron. Our staff was also joined by representatives from the program vendors, Maple Mountain Fireplace and Hearth & Home Distributors of Utah, who brought display stoves to the event.

Residents of Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, and eastern Tooele counties are eligible to participate in this exchange. If you’re interested, complete program rules and process are listed below.

Wood Stove Exchange Program Rules

  • The home must be located in a residential neighborhood
  • The home must be a primary residence (no summer homes or cabins)
  • Old stove must be operable and regularly used
  • Old stove must be a free-standing wood stove or wood-burning stove insert
  • Natural gas or propane service must already be in place
  • New appliance must be natural gas or propane (no EPA approved wood or pellet units)
  • Old stove or insert must be destroyed and proof provided
  • New appliance must be professionally installed
  • Installers must comply with all local, state and federal guidelines, laws and building codes

 Wood Stove Exchange Process

  • Homeowner submits downloaded application to UCAIR (mailed, emailed, faxed or in person) for approval. UCAIR completes initial inspection of home to verify old stove is operable and in use
  • UCAIR collects details on wood usage
  • UCAIR approves application and issues $1,000 voucher
  • Homeowner takes voucher to Maple Mountain Fireplaceor Hearth and Home of Utah
  • Homeowner selects from eligible gas or propane stoves or inserts (must have intermittent pilot ignition/electronic ignition)
  • Vendor secures funding for all but $1,000 of the cost of device and installation
  • Vendor installs device, complying with all local, state and federal guidelines, laws and building codes
  • Vendor delivers stove to destruction site and obtains proof of destruction
  • Vendor delivers proof of destruction to UCAIR
  • UCAIR pays vendor $1,000
We had an overwhelming response from the public since our announcement last week, and all our vouchers have been claimed. We encourage you to consider switching from a wood-burning to a gas-burning stove, voucher or not — it’s good for you and good for the environment.

Bailey ToolsonI have been the Program Manager at UCAIR for nearly 2 years. I previously managed the Air Assist Small Business Assistance program, and I am excited to get to work exchanging wood stoves. Prior to joining UCAIR, I worked for nearly four years with the Division of Air Quality. In my spare time, I enjoy hiking and camping, travel, and all things Italian.


This entry was originally published on November 6th, 2017, updated on December 1st, 2017, and posted in news.

Smog Rating Helps You Choose a Cleaner Car for Cleaner Air

By Ashley Miller, 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.

Smog rating

EPA smog rating on the window sticker, located in the lower right-hand corner

There were many things that drew me to Utah, but the incredible skiing, beautiful mountains, and incredibly light snow were high on the list. But with this beauty comes a unique challenge: our mountains shape our living space into a bowl, and our cold temperatures create inversions that trap emissions in that bowl, keeping us in a thick soup of particulate pollution until a storm blows it away.

On the average day along the Wasatch Front, vehicle emissions from mobile sources account for nearly half of our air pollution — about 48 percent in winter, and 45 percent in summer. Utah is experiencing vast population growth, and vehicle miles traveled are expected to double by 2040. Transportation and air-quality challenges come with population growth, so we have to think very carefully about how we can minimize the air-quality impact from more people with more cars.

One thing that we can do individually is to consider air quality when we purchase a vehicle. Here are a few simple ways to find a clean vehicle that meets your needs.

Check out the window sticker

Look for an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) label on the vehicle’s window sticker. There you’ll find information about the car’s fuel economy, greenhouse gas emissions, and most importantly, a smog rating. The smog rating scale is based on the U.S. Vehicle Emissions Standards, which incorporate specific thresholds for nitrogen oxides, non-methane organic gas, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and formaldehyde. The rating is on a scale of one to ten, and vehicles that score a ten are the cleanest.

Purchase a vehicle with a “high” smog rating

smog rating

Here I am with my RAV4. It has a smog rating of 8!

With smog ratings, higher is better: the higher the number, the cleaner the car. What does a better smog rating mean for our air quality? A vehicle with a smog rating of “8” emits about one-fifth of the emissions of a vehicle with a smog rating of “5.”

If buying a brand new car off a dealership lot isn’t right for you and your family, you can still find the smog ratings for used cars. Go to, find the type of car you want, compare cars side-by-side, and find the cleanest car that meets your needs.

If you’re looking at buying a car from a private-party seller, the emissions information can be found on or on the spot right under the hood. Cars have a Vehicle Emissions Control Information placard, and with your smart phone you can do a quick search to find out what the numbers mean. And even if you’re looking for a much older vehicle, with this information you can make a choice based on that car’s impact to our airshed. Remember, each number higher on the smog rating scale means dramatically fewer tailpipe emissions and cleaner air in Utah.

Consider your options

Electric vehicles (EVs)

All-electric, or battery-electric vehicles, have a smog rating of 10 and are the only vehicles with zero tailpipe emissions. The emissions from electricity generation are an important part of the equation, but even in regions dominated by relatively dirty power like coal, the emissions produced by the electricity drawn charging an EV are less than the emissions of the average compact, conventional vehicle. And as America’s electricity grids become cleaner and fueled by more renewables, charging EVs will become even cleaner.

If you’re thinking about making the switch to an electric vehicle, there is no better time than now. With so many makes and models available today, going electric is a much easier decision than even just a few years ago. EVs are coming down in price and are significantly cheaper to fuel than their gas counterparts. The average price of electricity has remained fairly static over the last decade, while oil prices to rise, drop, spike, dip and rise again over the same time period. EVs are remarkably simple to maintain because an electric motor has fewer moving parts compared to a combustion engine. This means that you’ll also be saving money on maintenance over the life of the vehicle.


If you’re still not quite ready to make the switch to an all-electric car, there are many other options out there. Hybrids are a great choice and come in a variety of makes and models. The best part about hybrids is they almost entirely eliminate idling by switching to battery power when the vehicle stops in traffic. Being idle-free is a great way to reduce vehicle emissions, and hybrids do the work for you. Many hybrids and plug-in hybrids have a smog rating of 8. And if your car has a smog rating of 8 or higher, you can apply for Salt Lake City’s Green Vehicle sticker, which allows you to park free on the street at the meter for two hours.

When you are in the market for your next car, be sure to look at the smog rating. The decisions we make every day can make a big difference in our air quality and our health.

Want to know more? Check out the EPA’s Green Vehicle Guide to learn more about green vehicles, how to help make transportation greener, and transportation options for the future.

I am an attorney originally from Lake Tahoe, California. I am the Policy Director for the local, nonprofit air-quality advocacy group Breathe Utah. My passions run deep in all things outdoors, like skiing and mountain biking. I was recently appointed by Governor Herbert to the new Air Quality Policy Advisory Board. I am also a member of the Salt Lake County Health Department Environmental Quality Advisory Commission, and the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Plan Advisory Committee.

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