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Air quality has reached crisis level, doctors say

SHARE Air quality has reached crisis level, doctors say

A group of local physicians says Utah's air pollution problem has reached crisis levels and a public health catastrophe looms if something isn't done.

On Monday, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment are expected to present a plan with steps that could keep the state's air breathable and protect the health of residents.

The group met privately Friday with Gov. Jon Huntsman to discuss its concerns. After telling the governor that air pollution damages health, much the same way as smoking does, the group recommended policies to address the problem.

"When people realize the air they are breathing is killing them and their children," said Brian Moench, a Salt Lake City anesthesiologist who began organizing the group last winter, "then maybe they will sit up and pay attention."

In their Friday meeting with Huntsman, doctors noted that Huntsman was struck in particular by the trouble children face because of air pollution.

"Every child is affected, whether they have asthma or not," said Salt Lake City pediatrician Shellie Ring, past president of the American Lung Association in Utah. She explained that, compared with children who are not exposed to air pollution, those who are never attain their full lung function.

The group is raising the alarm after one of the worst winter pollution seasons on record.

The state's Winter Air Quality Alert program set a record this season for the number of bad air quality days. Northern Utah communities from Provo to Logan had severe episodes of harmful fine-particle pollution.

Meanwhile, lawmakers this year decided to maintain the state's current funding for environmental programs, even as they doled out hearty increases to other agencies from a $1.7 billion budget surplus.

Kathy Van Dame, director of the Wasatch Clean Air Coalition and member of the state Air Quality Board, said much of Utah's past regulatory focus has been on meeting federal air-pollution limits, not the health effects. She said she applauds the doctors' efforts.

"These guys have the ability to raise the issue above business-as-usual," she said. "They bring credibility to the issue. And they are passionate."