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Telecommuting Boosts Productivity and Spares the Air

 By Debbie Parry and Marc Earnhardt

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth of a series of posts—published every Wednesday during July—of what DEQ employees are doing to reduce emissions during the 2014 Clear the Air Challenge.

It’s Wednesday morning, telecommuting day for me and Marc—both of us are financial officers at DEQ. We avoid the rush-hour traffic as we stroll down the hall to “his” and “her” work stations in our Layton home, ready for work by 8 a.m.

My work space is the kitchen counter where I log onto my laptop and with remote access can process travel reimbursements and other requests without having to step outside. Marc sits down at a desk with a computer, in a spare bedroom-converted-office, and accesses DEQ’s secure accounting information to process payments and approve billing.

This once-a-week telecommuting is fiscally and environmentally advantageous for us, and the State of Utah, too.

Consider the following benefits:Telecommuting

  • Telecommuting protects air quality by a reduction in vehicle emissions, the primary cause of air pollution. It also is part of DEQ’s trip reduction policy. Gov. Gary Herbert ordered all state agencies to have a TravelWise plan in place to allow flexible work schedules, so employees can take transit or telecommute on days when the air quality is deteriorating. (Roughly 10% of DEQ’s workforce telecommutes at least once a week.)
  • Telecommuting conserves energy. It cuts down on energy use in the work place. It reduces the use of office equipment and transportation, which requires lots of energy.
  • Telecommuting improves an individual’s health and well-being through lowering stress linked to compromises that are usually made between work and family. It also eliminates the stress related to commuting to work and offers a good opportunity for employees to enjoy their work. In fact, telecommuting gives workers a chance to carry out their duties at home without compromising both their job productivity and family living.
  • Telecommuting increases productivity. Employees usually spend most of their time on activities like commuting to work. Since telecommuting removes this particular necessity, employees can concentrate more on their work duties.
  • Telecommuting allows me time to focus on the task at hand, with minimal interruptions that come with working in an office. Marc and I feel very fortunate to work one day a week from home. It helps rejuvenate us for the days when we carpool to the office.
This month’s “Clear the Air Challenge” is all about reducing emissions through trip reduction like telecommuting. Visit cleartheairchallenge.org to register and participate. And come back to this blog to join the conversation about telecommuting.

Telecommuting
Marc has been a financial analyst for 26 years for the State of Utah. Debbie has worked at the Department of Environmental Quality for 27 years in finance. In our spare time, we like to garden, Marc likes to cook, and Deb enjoys arts and crafts. We also enjoy fishing and camping.

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This entry was originally published on July 23rd, 2014, updated on April 7th, 2017, and posted in news.

Mercury in Fish: When Catch-and-Release Is Good for You

 By Amy Dickey

Summertime in Utah means hiking, biking, barbecues, fireworks and…fishing! Warm summer days mean more folks are out fishing at Utah’s blue-ribbon streams, high-alpine lakes, reservoirs and urban ponds. Many anglers eat what they catch, which is a good thing, since fish provides important vitamins, minerals and Omega-3 fatty acids that people need for a healthy diet.

Unfortunately, when fishing spots become polluted, your catch may also become contaminated with high concentrations of mercury and other harmful chemicals. Fortunately, Utah has a statewide program that monitors mercury levels in fish and issues advisories to let people know when fish at a particular location are unsafe to eat.

Mercury is a naturally occurring element in our air, soil and water. Atmospheric mercury makes its way into water bodies through rain or snow (wet deposition), or the settling of gases and particles from the air (dry deposition). Other sources of mercury include storm water and industrial discharges. Bacteria in the soils and sediments at the bottom of lakes and streams convert naturally occurring mercury into a more toxic form known as methylmercury. Unlike elemental mercury, methylmercury bioaccumulates in organisms, becoming more concentrated in their bodies the more they ingest. Methylmercury also biomagnifies, meaning organisms contain more of the toxin the higher up they are in the food chain.

Mercury acts as a neurotoxin and has the potential to damage the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys and immune system. Pregnant women and nursing mothers are at risk because methylmercury impacts fetal development and passes from mother to child through breast milk. Young children are also at higher risk because their nervous systems are still developing.

Public health officials in Utah issue fish advisories when mercury levels in fish reach unsafe levels. These advisories provide recommendations on how much of a particular type of fish is safe to eat. Anglers can look up this information by county, water-body, or fish species on the Utah Fish Advisory website.

The Division of Water Quality (DWQ) has teamed with the Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and Utah Department of Health (UDOH) to develop collection plans, catch and sample fish, analyze the data, and determine consumption values. Since the Utah program began, more than 3,500 fish have been collected from 280 sites throughout the state, with consumption advisories issued at 23 locations for 13 different fish species.

It’s important to keep in mind that just eight percent of the sites

Photo credit: Photo credit: stepwilh.blogspot.com

sampled warranted consumption advisories. So remember: You can eat fish—just choose wisely. Know the locations of advisories and the species they include. And enjoy yourself at your favorite lake or reservoir—there are no known health risks associated with swimming and boating in water-bodies with advisories.

Going fishing? Check out the state’s fish advisory website for more information on advisory locations, fish species and recommended consumption amounts. EPA’s Mercury website has additional information about fish consumption, health effects and the ways people can be exposed to mercury. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration recently issued Draft Advice on mercury levels in fish that can help you make informed choices before you purchase fish at a grocery store or restaurant.

Amy DickeyI have worked with the Utah Division of Water Quality for 13 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.

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This entry was originally published on July 21st, 2014, updated on April 7th, 2017, and posted in news.

Why Do I Bike? Clean Air and Exercise — but Mostly It Makes Me Happy

By: Tom Daniels

May is Bike Month, and DEQ is celebrating by inviting bloggers to share their thoughts on choosing bicycles as an environmentally friendly form of transportation.

Tom DanielsIt’s 5 a.m. I stumble to the bathroom, run water through my hair, brush my teeth and get dressed: shorts, jersey, gloves, jacket and shoes; shoulder on my back pack, grab my lunch and stumble downstairs.

There’s my ride: 15 pounds of carbon fiber and titanium. My day is instantly better.

Two miles in 7 minutes to the Ogden bus stop. I throw my bike on the bus and relax for the hour ride in to work at DEQ.

My first “real” bike was a Motobecane. It had a brazed frame and bar end shifters. It was fast and light. My first ride up Emigration had me out of breath and sore. Biking took a back seat to college, marriage and kids. When I started at DEQ in 1995 I weighed over 215 pounds. It wasn’t until my car engine blew that I picked up my bike again, because it cost more to repair than the car was worth, and well, I had a bike.

Back then it was a 10-mile commute from my Murray house to the Salt Lake office. I was heavy, out of shape, and frankly I SUCKED! In 1996, mountain biking made its debut in the Atlanta Olympics. Tinker Juarez was 5 years older than me, slaughtering kids 10-to-15 years younger than him. I figured if Tinker could do it, so could I. It took the entire summer to get in shape. After 2 years living in Ogden, I dropped to 165 pounds, where it has stayed for the last 15 years.

It’s 5 p.m. I change, fill my water bottles, grab my back pack and retrieve my bike. There is a slight headwind so I tuck down to reduce my resistance and bring my cadence up. I feel the wind passing over me, the road beneath me, my legs are churning, and my lungs are starting to burn. All I hear is the thrum of the road beneath my tires, and the chain moving through the derailleur.

In 20 minutes I’m at Legacy Parkway where I meet up with another rider and we start working together. Our speed and cadence increase as we take turns pulling for each other, and the miles quickly disappear.

At Farmington Station, I peel off, hop on Highway 89 and start climbing through Fruit Heights, Cherry Lane then onto the Weber River Divide, hitting 45 mph on that descent. One last climb in Ogden in 1:52—not bad for a 35 mile-ride home with 18 miles of climbs.

Tom DanielsI have ridden in rain, snow, hail and temperatures ranging from -17°F to 113°F. I am on my third road bike, having literally ridden the wheels off of two others. I have been hit by a car on three different occasions. I have had three concussions, two broken thumbs, a broken elbow and shoulder surgery. People ask why I ride. Biking saves money, energy and pollution. It also has helped me lose weight and keep it off. But that is not why I ride.

I bike because it doesn’t matter how tired, angry, frustrated I get throughout the day. When I get on my bike, it evaporates into the ether. I have had hard rides and easy rides, rides that have pushed me farther than I ever thought I would go, but in the end, there has never been a bad ride.

Biking makes me happy. That is why I ride.

May is Utah Bike Month. Why do you ride? We’d love to hear how biking makes you happy.

I am a mechanical engineering graduate from the University of Utah. I work as an environmental engineer for the Division of Environmental Response and Remediation in the Superfund Section. I also teach a spin class at Weber State.

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This entry was originally published on July 16th, 2014, updated on April 7th, 2017, and posted in news.

SUCCESS: X-Ray Inspections

By Rusty Lundberg

When you’re sitting in the dental chair, you’re probably more concerned about cavities than the X-rays your dentist uses to detect them. It’s easy to forget that dental and medical X-rays deliver the majority of our exposure to man made radiation. New radiation survey meters used by Division of Radiation Control (DRC) inspectors have shortened the time it takes to check this kind of X-ray inspections equipment, improving operational inefficiencies and safeguarding patients from unnecessary radiation exposure from these procedures.

X-Ray

Original 1970’s X-Ray Survey Equipment

Our X-ray inspection program ensures that facilities with X-ray equipment in Utah have an effective radiation safety program that keeps patient exposure to radiation As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA). Our inspectors make sure that each X-ray unit performs properly and produces high quality images that provide accurate diagnostic information while minimizing exposure.

Back in the 1970’s, the provided us with our original “gold standard” survey equipment. While it provided extremely high-quality results, this survey meter was heavy and bulky, required two separate pieces of equipment, and took considerable time to set up. Our new survey meter is a significantly smaller device that takes five measurements during one exposure—compared with three exposures using two different survey tools to get the same measurements with the old equipment. The shorter set-up time for the new machine also lets us get the first exposure in less than one minute. Total inspection time has been reduced by approximately 20 minutes.

Americans are exposed to more than seven times as much radiation from medical procedures than they were twenty years ago. While this increase in radiation exposure from medical procedures and diagnostics can improve health outcomes, it highlights the need for regular inspections to confirm that doses of radiation are as low as possible. Increased access to healthcare, along with projected population growth in the state, will lead to more diagnostic X-ray procedures, facilities, and X-ray units that will require inspection. Shortening the time to perform inspections will help DRC keep up with this increased need.

X-Ray Imaging

DRC Director Rusty Lundberg holding a new, smaller X-ray survey device.

Under our continuous improvement process, our division is always looking for ways to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our inspection program. We are currently exploring the use of hand-held devices that inspectors can take into the field to fill out inspection reports. This would reduce time spent filling out duplicate forms and give our inspectors more time to answer questions medical professionals may have about their X-ray inspection equipment or precautions they may want to take for sensitive populations.

Want to learn more about medical X-ray imaging? The Food and Drug Administration website provides information about the benefits and risks of X-rays inspections along with questions you can ask your health care provider about the diagnostic and therapeutic use of X-rays. The Health Physics Society offers a Fact Sheet that explains the types of medical procedures that use radiation along with typical doses. Our X-ray staff is always happy to answer your questions about X-ray safety. Give us a call at 801-536-4250.

I am the Director of the Division of Radiation Control and have been a t DEQ for 29 years, most of that time in the Division of MarathonSolid and Hazardous Waste. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in meteorology—probably because I’ve always enjoyed a good summer thunderstorm. I enjoy various outdoor activities such as running, hiking, as well as yard work. I also enjoy an occasional fun run with other family members or spending time together while traveling.

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This entry was originally published on July 14th, 2014, updated on December 14th, 2016, and posted in news.

My Own Clear Air Challenge: Riding Transit All Month Long

By Donna Kemp Spangler

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a series of posts—published every Wednesday during July—of what DEQ employees are doing to reduce emissions during the 2014 Clear the Air Challenge.

When FrontRunner arrived in Ogden in 2008, my goal had been to commute from Ogden to my DEQ office in Salt Lake City, using transit at least once a week. The opening of the TRAX extension to the airport a few years later made it faster and more convenient to get to my office from the FrontRunner station. And by and large, my initial goal of once a week has been achieved with minimal effort.

There are the obvious benefits to ditching the car:

  • It saves me about $10 in fuel for each round trip, and,
  • It reduces air pollution (vehicle emissions are the biggest source of air pollution).

I have found it to be an easy choice when the air is especially bad, when weather makes driving treacherous, when my car isn’t running, or when my husband is headed to Salt Lake and we can carpool.

But the reality is that most days I allow riding transit to take a back seat to the convenience of having a ride home at the turn of a key. And given my hectic schedule of meetings, I wonder if it’s even possible to exist in a sprawling community like the Wasatch Front without a vehicle.

It will be an interesting experiment: My personal challenge is to commute not using my car for the entire month of July—and I so love my convertible in the summertime—no exceptions! My colleague, Bob Ford, who oversees DEQ’s asbestos program, is doing the same by parking his car and riding his bike. And as “CleanAirBob” would say, “If Bob can do it, I can do it.”

My experiment is part of the statewide Clear the Air Challenge, a friendly competition sponsored by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and embraced by Utah Governor Gary Herbert, who has challenged all state agencies to participate.

The Utah Department of Transportation and Utah Department of Health have each challenged DEQ to a competition to see which department can save the most trips and with the greatest reduction in commuter miles.

To my friends at UDOT and the Health Department I say give it your best shot. DEQ welcomes the challenge.

Based on statistics from last year’s challenge, DEQ employees collectively recorded nearly 40,500 total miles in reduced commuter miles—a total that accounts for almost half of the all miles saved by employees with 16 state agencies participating. And we are one of the smallest agencies in the state in terms of employees.

This year, we all will be recording our progress with a new interface that makes it easier for everyone to track the miles they have saved on their mobile devices or desktop computers. This technology is available to all Utahns, thanks to a $25,000 grant from Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR).

Mass TransitThe biggest benefit from the challenge will be improved air quality by reducing air pollution through fewer commuter trips each day. And we hope for a heightened awareness that each and every commuter can make choices that will collectively improve the air we breathe.

DEQ is the reigning champions of the challenge. Care to take us on? Register for the 2014 Clear the Air Challenge, if you haven’t done so yet, and discover how you can make a difference. Come back to this blog next month and find out how I did.

I am the Communications Director for DEQ and write a monthly blog.

This entry was originally published on July 9th, 2014, updated on August 10th, 2017, and posted in news.

Water Quality: Holding the line on Nutrient Pollution

By John Mackey

Nutrient Pollution

Example of a blue-green algal bloom.

So what is it about nutrients in our water that’s such a big deal? The waters I recreate in aren’t green and soupy; in fact, they look pretty good and have plenty of fish. If I opened the tap and my water was cloudy or had a peculiar smell, I would be pretty surprised. Or if I saw fish belly-up all over the place, I’d be concerned. But that can’t happen here, right?

Fact is it’s not always easy to see water pollution or its effects. Nutrient pollution is becoming a big problem because more and more nitrogen and phosphorous are making their way into our water every day. These nutrients come from lots of places—from our toilets, our farmlands, and our green, fertilized lawns—and the more of us there are, the more nutrients end up in the water. Too many nutrients make the algae in the water grow faster, and pretty soon you can have algal blooms that kill fish, make the water taste and smell bad, or even release toxins that can make people and animals sick.

So how does the Division of Water Quality (DWQ) plan to hold the line on nutrient pollution when Utah is growing more every day? Well, we look at what we’ve done in the past and find ways to avoid problems in the future.

Thirty years ago, Deer Creek Reservoir, which provides water to most of the Wasatch Front water suppliers, was facing some serious algal blooms. The big water purveyors, like Salt Lake City, said “Hey, this is a big problem because these algae blooms are adding a lot of taste and odor to our water.” DWQ and the cities put together a plan that re-routed the discharge from the Heber City wastewater treatment plant to farmland where it could be used to grow alfalfa.

Today, we’re seeing the same algae-related problems in Rockport and Echo Reservoirs. Our Water

Quality Board just voted to put a nutrient pollution plan in place to reduce nutrients in the reservoirs by 35 percent. Reducing wastewater discharges is a big part of this plan. The Snyderville Basin Water Reclamation District (SBWRD) will invest about $15 million in upgrades to control the discharge of nutrients from its treatment system. If the new system controls and watershed management strategies work as planned, SBWRD’s investment is expected to permanently solve nutrient-related problems in the reservoirs.

Thirty years ago, getting Heber’s waste out of the reservoir helped hold the line on pollution in Deer Creek. We are even better prepared today, with better science and better control technologies. We know that we need to deal with nutrient problems sooner rather than later and that taking moderate steps now will give us time to come up with new technologies and management approaches that will do more than just “hold the line.” Working together, we can protect our waters over the long term at a reasonable cost. And that’s in everybody’s best interests.

You can learn more about the ways DWQ is addressing nutrient pollution in Utah by checking out our Nutrients web page. Want to know how you can help? Go to EPA’s Nutrient Pollution webpage, where you can find tips on what you can do in your home, your yard, and your community to reduce nutrient pollution.

I am a staff engineer from the engineering section at the Division of Water Quality. I like to fish and swim in really cold water, and I love nutrients—but mostly for growing vegetables.

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This entry was originally published on July 7th, 2014, updated on August 10th, 2017, and posted in news.