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Inversion aversion: Research, initiative strike at Utah’s pollution problem

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SALT LAKE CITY — Something called the Twin Otter is going to plow through the temperature inversions that develop along the Wasatch Front and in Cache County, gathering data in a study that is the first of its kind in the nation.

The light aircraft from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will use sophisticated equipment to survey chemical conditions present when an inversion of PM2.5, or fine particulate pollution, exists.

While research teams flew in Denver and the Uinta Basin probing atmospheric conditions, those studies involved the formation of ozone.

The study of fine particulate pollution, set to begin later this month, is being shepherded by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and also taps efforts of partners that include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the University of Utah, Brigham Young University and Utah State University.

Several other universities are involved in the $2 million study as well, which was initially funded by the Utah Legislature that spurred other contributions.

Alan Matheson, director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, said research that points to the atmospheric buildup of fine particulate pollution will help the agency develop hard-target reduction strategies it can incorporate into a new pollution plan being developed in the coming year.

The study will take place over a month's time through mid-February.

In other developments on the pollution front, the agency is hosting a symposium from 8:30 a.m. to noon Wednesday in the DEQ boardroom, 195 N. 1950 West. The event includes a number of presenters, including the Utah Department of Transportation, Kenecott, Salt Lake City and Intermountain Healthcare that will discuss successful employer strategies for reducing employee pollution contributions.

Mat Carlile, an environmental planning consultant with DEQ, said the idea is for business leaders and employers to get together to swap stories and strategies on what works to cut down on pollution. Such strategies could include carpooling, flexible work schedules, telecommuting or incentives for public transit.

Along that same line, the Salt Lake Chamber has teamed up with the Utah Clean Air Partnership to launch the inversion mitigation initiative, which challenges businesses and employees to reduce their pollution footprint this winter.

More information is available in the challenge to become a "clean air champion" at cleanairchampion.com

Beyond these initiatives, a number of anti-idling events are taking place under the leadership of Canyons School District. The district, which became the first in the state to launch an anti-idling initiative last year, worked with the Salt Lake County Health Department to determine the extent of idling by observing cars at three schools.

The district found that an overwhelming majority of Canyon School District families are incorporating no-idling into their life. The survey found that of the 538 vehicles observed dropping off and picking up students, just 19 percent of the vehicles idled longer than two minutes.

Kirsten Stewart, a district spokeswoman, said the findings demonstrate a no-idling goal is within reach.