Local air passes federal standards

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    By LAEL PALMER

    For the third year in a row, Utah County residents are breathing easier.

    1996 was the third year Utah County has remained below federal levels for particulate matter and carbon monoxide emissions, said Bob Dalley, a manager at the Utah Air Quality Monitoring Center.

    Maintaining federal standards means that Utah won’t be penalized for violations of federal air quality regulations. This means environmental regulators may breathe a sigh of relief for now, but it may not last long.

    The county is allowed to exceed federal standards for particulate matter only three times in three years, Dalley said, but the federal government may soon make standards more stringent, causing the Utah Legislature to take a hard look at future plans for industry and travel.

    However, all of Utah’s pollution news isn’t good. Utah County, along with Davis, Weber and Salt Lake Counties are classified as “nonattainment areas.” These areas fail to comply with the 1990 Federal Clean Air Act. This act specifies that areas not meeting federal health standards for certain pollutants must develop a plan of action to lower concentrations.

    Utah County is over the limit for particulate matter and carbon dioxide, according to the Utah Division of Air Quality. Particulate matter is produced mainly by industries such as Geneva Steel, Pacificorp and Consolidated Red E Mix; as well as wood-burning stoves, according to data from the Utah Division of Air Quality.

    A particulate is any particle suspended in the air. These particles sometimes cause a haze in the air, irritate sensitive lung tissue and reduce breathing capacity, according to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

    Another issue faced by local government is the level of carbon monoxide emissions produced by automobiles, the burning of wood and miscellaneous non-road sources in Utah County. The carbon monoxide standard was exceeded once in February 1996. Federal law allows counties to exceed the carbon monoxide standard once per year; the second exceedance is a violation and Utah would have to implement a plan to immediately reduce levels or be fined.

    When levels went above legal standards, regulators were worried that a second violation was inevitable because the worst months for carbon monoxide were still to come — November and December.

    Fortunately, good weather and efforts by the local government to regulate car and industry emissions were effective — February’s violation of carbon monoxide levels was the only one. Control strategies include wood-burning restrictions, mandatory vehicle inspections and oxygenated-fuel programs.

    Dalley said he is glad for the improvement, but he said that many factors are responsible for the lower levels of pollution in the air. “You can’t pinpoint exactly why we have improved,” Dalley said.New industry regulations, strict automobile regulations and cleaner-running automobiles have all contributed, he said.

    Another reason for low reading of particulate matter and carbon monoxide is simple luck — for the past year, good weather has helped improve the data, he said.

    Dwight Hill, Director of Environmental Quality in Utah County, agrees. “The county has not experienced a serious winter inversion this year, which has kept readings low,” Hill said.

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