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Six years ago when Sam Rushforth talked about PM10 pollution, most people responded with "Huh?"

What a difference a few years can make.According to a survey by the Utah Division of Air Quality, residents of Utah County not only know what PM10 is, but they know what causes it and why it is a problem.

No one is, perhaps, more pleased by that news than Rushforth, a co-founder of the Utah County Clean Air Coalition who worked doggedly for years to make PM10, carbon monoxide and other names of air pollutants household words.

"I'm happy that people have this level of understanding," said Rushforth, a botany professor at Brigham Young University. "For change to happen, people have to understand the problem."

Utah County regularly exceeds federal health standards for both carbon monoxide and PM10, or fine-particulate, pollution. The primary source of carbon monoxide in the county is automobiles, while most of the PM10 comes from Geneva Steel.

The division conducted the survey to gauge residents' understanding of air quality and support for ways of curbing pollution.

"The division did it simply to get citizen input," said David Clouse, an employee with the Utah County Outreach program. "We wanted to know what the citizens wanted to have done with their air quality problem."

The division conducted the telephone survey of 200 Utah County residents from 17 cities and towns from June 21 to July 2. The survey's margin of error is plus or minus 2.5 percent, according to the division.

The biggest surprise may be respondents' answer to a question about their willingness to pay to help reduce air pollution. A majority of respondents - 124, or 62 percent - said they supported a gasoline tax or increased property taxes to cut pollution.

That willingness may be a reflection of the respondents' understanding of air quality problems in the valley.

Nearly all of the respondents - 192, or 96 percent - said they agreed or strongly agreed that air pollution is an important issue in the county. A similar number - 186, or 93 percent - said the level of air pollution in Utah County is harmful to health.

"In the last five years, there has been so much new evidence linking air pollution and health concerns," Rushforth said. "We are at a place about air pollution where we were about cigarette smoking 30 years ago."

Rushforth and other researchers, including BYU economist Arden C. Pope, have produced studies over the past several years that show air pollution in the county causes increased deaths and hospitalizations.

When asked to identify the major cause of pollution in the valley, a majority of respondents - 181, or 90.5 percent - correctly stated automobiles, Geneva Steel or both. A strong majority of respondents also told the division they favor "much stricter laws" to curb the two primary sources of pollution in the valley.

As far as other measures to reduce pollution, respondents expressed most support for traffic-control measures, use of remote sensing devices that identify heavy-polluting automobiles, employer-sponsored trip reduction programs and more emphasis on car pooling.

They were most opposed to oxygenated fuel programs, additional no-burn days for woodburning stoves and fireplaces and stricter auto-emission standards as tools to reduce bad air.

The fact that people were least supportive of a measure already in place to reduce carbon monoxide pollution - the oxygenated fuel program - wasn't surprising.

"We'd had several complaints,and we'd somewhat gauged that people weren't very supportive of it (oxygenated fuel)," Clouse said. "A lot of people had a bad impression of it."

About half the respondents said they'd get more involved in Utah County air quality issues if they "felt change could result from citizen input" and if "meetings and hearings were better publicized."

Rushforth said he understands residents' apprehensions about making a difference.

"We feel that same way in the clean air coalition. We've been working and working for five or six years trying to influence policy and trying to have laws changed and talking to people," he said. "Even though we have this level of sophistication (about the problem), we still have filthy air in the winter."

The state is developing a plan to reduce carbon monoxide pollution in the county. It will use information gathered in the survey to come up with control strategies, Clouse said. A plan for controlling PM10 pollution is already in place.

Rushforth is skeptical the PM10 plan will benefit residents' health. The plan will bring pollution levels just under the federal health standard of 150 micrograms per cubic meter.

"The data is clear that is still very unhealthy air," he said.

"The health standard is going to have to change."


(Additional information)

Air-quality survey

Poll of 200 Utah County residents:

-93% say the level of air pollution in Utah County is harmful to health.

-91% correctly stated automobiles, Geneva Steel or both as the major causes or pollution in the valley.

-Strong opposition was to oxygenated fuels, additonal no-burn days and stricter auto-emmission standards.

-62% would pay additional taxes.