Editor’s note: This story pairs with “Efforts to decrease air pollution ‘treading water’ despite growing links to health problems”
In the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains, smoke floating from a chimney on a crisp winter morning can seem rustic, beautiful and picturesque, but what happens when there are 20,000 billowing chimneys and no air flow?
According to its official Twitter page, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) predicts that 14 percent of PM2.5, or fine particles, will come from solid fuel burning.
PM2.5 is particulate matter in the air with a diameter of less that 2.5 micrometers and studies have linked PM2.5 to long-lasting lung damage.
Because of the risk of increased air pollution, several counties in Utah enforce no-burn days, which mandate that solid fuels cannot be burned. Last winter there were 19 mandatory no-burn days in Utah County and 21 voluntary no-burn days. On a voluntary no-burn day, people are encouraged — but not required — not to burn.
According to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, the penalty for burning on a mandatory no-burn day starts at $150 for a first-time offense and can be as high as $299 per offense after that.
According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, 111 days in 2018 were registered as “moderate” levels of air pollution in Utah County. That’s when the Utah Division of Air Quality issues a voluntary no-burn warning.
Infographic by Jefferson Jarvis
According to the Utah Administrative Code, households that burn solid fuels as a sole source of heat can register with the program director to be exempt during mandatory no-burn periods, but not many households have claimed that status.
A new option for homes depending on solid fuel for heat is the Wood Stove Conversion Assistance Program, an incentive program set up by the state to subsidize the cost of converting a wood burning stove or fireplace into electric or natural gas heating systems.
Residents who applied for the program could get up to $3,800 toward the cost of a cleaner heating system. The program launched in October 2018 and Project Manager Joel Karmazyn said the response was immediate.
“The program launch was October 15, 2018, and we sold out in about a week,” Karmazyn said. “We don’t track the number of applications since many don’t complete the applications, but we have issued 558 awards.”
Although the awards have currently all been claimed, Utah County residents can still sign up for a waitlist for notification when more funds become available.
The Utah Division of Air Quality issues mandatory no-burn days when pollution is high and during winter inversions. From Nov. 1 to March 1 the government can mandate a no-burn day.
Utah, Box Elder, Cache, Davis, Salt Lake, Toole, and Weber Counties are currently regulated.