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Summer Ozone Season

By Bo Call

As the snow melts, so does our memory of winter inversions and bad air days. But with the spring and warmer temperatures also comes the summer ozone season. DEQ’s Air Monitoring Center is now gearing up to battle Utah’s other air-quality demon—ozone. And it’s a battle that’s harder to fight. Just like wintertime, we post a three-day air quality forecast, along with real-time monitoring information, on our website (also available on the UtahAir app) as a way to help people manage their health and activities. The fine particulate pollution common in the winter is easier for us to

Summer Ozone

Bo Call, Utah Division of Air Quality Air Monitoring
Manager, checking monitoring equipment at the
Air Monitoring Center chase. Our mountain-valley topography traps the pollutants and puts us in an inversion that lasts until the next storm blows through. If we continue to burn wood and drive cars—the primary sources of pollution—it will start to fill up the valley like water running in a bathtub that keeps overflowing until we pull the plug or turn off the tap.

Ozone is a more fickle beast.

Ground-level ozone is created much the same as winter inversion fine particulates. It is not emitted directly in the air, but created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—emissions from industrial facilities and motor vehicle exhaust. 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—making forecasting much more difficult and often looking more like guesswork.

One of the major factors in ozone formation is sunlight. Cloud cover can slow down or turn off the reaction that produces ozone, which makes it pretty difficult to predict those weather events that will influence ozone levels and those that won’t. We’ll wait until 7 p.m. to make our forecast for the next day’s commute. An unusually calm night with warm temperatures could mean the ozone levels don’t go down as expected. A summer monsoon could clear the pollution out when we had predicted high levels.

When it comes to your health—and our predictions take this into account—we prefer to err on the side of caution. Foul air may or may not be unhealthy at any given time of the day. Specific to ozone, the air quality is generally better in the mornings, so taking advantage of any opportunity to shift outdoor activity to morning hours is a good move. If we’re wrong about our forecast, the only consequence is cleaner air—and the bathtub just drained a little more.

Make sure you check our current conditions and forecast, or download our UtahAir app, available for Android and iOS. Visit UCAIR for what you can do to help improve air quality.

I have been with the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) for 21 years, Ozonemanaging the air monitoring section since 2009. Prior to that I worked in DAQ’s compliance branch and conducted source inspections, specializing in asbestos rules and enforcement. I have a BA in Biology from Utah State University. I am a member of the Air Force Reserve as a Transportation Specialist. On my own time, I have a hobby farm and recently entered into the realm of beekeeping.

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This entry was originally published on May 5th, 2014, updated on August 10th, 2017, and posted in news.

Willard Bay Diesel Fuel Spill

By John Whitehead

The Willard Bay Diesel Fuel Spill in March 2013, was certainly not a welcome event for anybody—not for Chevron, not for DEQ, and certainly not for Willard Bay State Park, the folks who recreate there, and the animal and plant life that call the reservoir “home.”

Diesel Fuel Spill

Aerial image of Willard Bay 12 days after a Aerial image of Willard Bay 12 days after a Chevron pipeline leaked diesel fuel in 2013. Aerial image of Willard Bay 12 days after a Chevron pipeline leaked diesel fuel in 2013.

The cleanup was essentially complete in July 2013, although there were some minor hot spots that needed to be taken care of in the months to follow. DEQ completed extensive soils and water testing to answer the question: “Is it safe for folks and critters to return to the area of immediate impact?” We are just finishing up Risk Assessments for possible impacts to Human Health and potential Ecological Risks to aquatic communities from the spill. Based on our draft documents, it looks like we may be able to issue the “all clear” soon.

Diesel Fuel Cleanup

Hard booms and absorbent booms at the Willard Bay North Marina during the diesel fuel cleanup divided the area to better contain contaminated water and facilitate water sampling. Photo Credit:  Stacee Adams

If there is a silver lining to all this, it is that the Settlement Agreement with Chevron provides approximately $3.1 million dollars to fund new mitigation projects. You might ask, what is a mitigation project? Well, these are projects that are above and beyond any cleanup action Chevron was required to complete in order to enhance and protect waterways and environmental areas that may have been affected by the diesel spill. Mitigation projects must protect or improve water quality and /or the ecology of natural systems. Acceptable mitigation projects include, but aren’t limited to, the following activities:

  • Environmental projects
  • Infrastructure improvement
  • Studies or educational activities

Based on the phone calls and emails we’ve been getting, there are a lot of interested folks out there with project proposals. We will evaluate all proposals received by 5 p.m. on May 5, 2014, and rank them to determine which ones will get funded. We will post the projects on our website as soon as we compile them, and we’ll let you know about the projects on our blog as well.

I welcome your thoughts on the project proposals we receive. Please share your info and insights in the “Post a Comment” section located at the end of this post. Stay tuned and let me know what you think.

I’m a hydrologist with more than 30 years of water quality related Diesel Spill Cleanupexperience in surface and ground water issues in Utah. I have degrees in Watershed Science from Utah State University and Business Administration from New Mexico State University. My current assignment is as an assistant director in the Division of Water Quality supervising the Surface Water Discharge Permitting and Watershed Protection programs. When I’m not working, I do as much camping, fly-fishing and cross country skiing as time allows.

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This entry was originally published on April 30th, 2014, updated on August 16th, 2017, and posted in news.

Spills Response: Because Oil and Water Shouldn’t Mix

By Walt Baker

The one-year anniversary of the Willard Bay diesel spill last month was a sobering reminder of the environmental damage our waterways suffer when oil or chemicals spill into our lakes and streams. While the “hero beavers” did their part to help save the day last year, the folks in our division were the boots-on-the-ground that ensured that the cleanup was done properly.

We often get questions about our role in a spill cleanup, and the answer is

Spills

Alex Anderson, Utah Division of Water Quality scientist, removing a “pom-pom” from a Willard Bay monitoring location to check for sheen.
Photo Credit: Stacee Adams

“it depends.” We take the lead if the spill is large and involves one or more of the following contaminants or consequences:

  • Crude or refined oil
  • Potential for major or significant damage to water quality
  • Impacts to a sensitive or high priority area

Sometimes the local health department or another state or federal agency takes responsibility for the spill cleanup and reports back to us when it’s completed.

Our division is part of the command-and-control team that handles spills after the first responders—generally the local fire department and other emergency personnel—arrive on the scene and begin containment measures. Our job is to ensure that the cleanup is done correctly and safeguards human health and the environment. We do this by:

  • Certifying that qualified personnel record conditions at the spill site and take water and soils samples using proper procedures
  • Examining sampling results to assess the ecological and human health risk
  • Updating our records as new information comes in
  • Developing a sampling analysis plan if we believe more sampling should be done
  • Determining if further water quality monitoring is needed
  • Working with those responsible for the spill on a Corrective Action Plan to clean up the pollution and restore water quality and the aquatic ecosystem
  • Ensuring that the cleanup meets state criteria and standards

We may issue citations or Notices of Violation if the spill violates state regulations that prohibit pollution discharges into state waters.

While we do a good job responding to spills, we want to do even better. That’s why we have spent the past six months working on a Spills Kaizen to determine the most effective and efficient way to respond to spills and better coordinate our efforts with other agencies. The Kaizen study has helped us pinpoint the areas where we can improve our process and streamline our spills response.

Spill prevention is always the best strategy, but when spills happen, a coordinated response is critical to minimizing the damage and mitigating the effects. To learn more about oil spills and how they are cleaned up, check out the EPA’s brochure on oil spills and oil spill response.
Oil Spills

Walt and his wife, Celia, grab their shovels for the Jordan River Cleanup Day

I graduated with a B.S. Degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Utah State University and worked for a consulting engineering firm before joining the Division of Water Quality in 1984. I was appointed Division Director and Executive Secretary of the Water Quality Board in May 2004 and am a licensed professional engineer in Utah.

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This entry was originally published on April 28th, 2014, updated on August 10th, 2017, and posted in 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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This entry was originally published on April 24th, 2014, updated on August 4th, 2017, and posted in news.

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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This entry was originally published on April 22nd, 2014, updated on December 8th, 2016, and posted in news.

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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This entry was originally published on April 21st, 2014, updated on December 7th, 2016, and posted in news.