Air quality in Utah County is significantly worse this fall compared to previous years, according to the Utah County Clean Air Coalition.

The coalition did an analysis of fine-particulate, or PM10, levels earlier this week after it received numerous calls from residents upset about the air quality. Some callers said the air in Utah Valley looks worse than the air in downtown Los Angeles, according to the coalition.Does it just look bad or are pollution-levels indeed higher? To find out, coalition co-chairman Sam Rushforth computed 24-hour average PM10 values for the first 15 days of October for the past six years.

With the exception of 1987,"The point is, if you take the average of the last three falls, we're still 42 percent higher this year," Rushforth said. "Everyone in Utah Valley has been looking for improvement in air quality since the new oxygenated furnaces (Q-BOP) at Geneva Steel were started.

"All I'm saying is: `Good heavens. Take a look at the air. It ain't cleaner.' "

Geneva is using two old open hearths and one new furnace to make steel and is working to get a second new Q-BOP furnace on line. The company has had to work a few bugs out of the Q-BOP operation during its startup.

"We trying as fast as we can to get the Q-BOPs up and running," said Mitch Haws, director of corporate communication. "When they are running, it will be a cleaner operation. Does that mean there will never be another PM10 exceedance?" The answer is no, he said.

For residents to focus exclusively on the plant to solve PM10 problems is counterproductive, Haws said.

"We're 50 percent of the problem," he said. "That means something else is responsible for 50 percent of the problem."

Meteorology is the best explanation for the differences in PM10 levels from one year to the next, Haws said. During winters with little snow and few inversions the valley usually doesn't exceed the PM10 standard.

Bob Dalley, manager of monitoring for the state Division of Air Quality, agrees the weather is partly to blame for the current poor air quality. While the days have been glorious, the air is stable, something that usually happens later in the fall.

"That means we get a larger number of small particles (in the air)," Dalley said.

There can be three to four times more particles in the air without changing the PM10 levels. But, the smaller particles may have a greater impact on visibility, Dalley said.

"Our concern as required by federal and state law is when we approach or exceed the standard," he said.

Actual readings of PM10 levels were high on three days this month, according to Dalley. On Oct. 11 the PM10 level at Lindon measured 93; on Monday it was 83 and on the Tuesday it was 90. Thursday the PM10 level was 54.

"I don't know how much effect of that is from running the open hearths and the Q-BOP at the same time," said Burnell Cordner, Division of Air Quality director. "We will have that until the Q-BOP is (fully) operational and gets approved."

He said he hopes that will occur before bad inversions set in this winter.

"It's a little bit frightening to have these high readings this early in the year," Cordner said.



Average levels

Average 24-hour PM10 levels from the Lindon monitor for the first half of October 1985-1991

1985 36

1986 30

1987 56

1988 45

1989 34

1990 29

1991 51