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Lehi announces no health risks from Point of the Mountain dust; environment committee formed

LEHI — City officials want Lehi residents to know that the dust kicked up near Point of the Mountain isn't a threat to their health.

The mayor and City Council released a letter last week addressed to Lehi's residents who worried about risks from airborne dust. According to the letter, experts found the dust in that area, mostly caused by mining and construction operations, is not a major health risk.

"While construction work that puts a lot of dirt in the air is annoying, it is not a significant public health concern," said Sam LeFevre, an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health who consulted with the city on the issue.

LeFevre and other members of the health department's Environmental Epidemiology Program said the main two factors in determining health risks from airborne particles are the size of particles and duration of exposure.

Larger particles are captured by the mouth and throat, tending to not reach the lungs, according to the letter. Smaller particles can reach further into the respiratory system, even to the lungs.

Typical construction dust particles are larger, LeFevre told the City Council in a meeting on Aug. 28.

Silicosis, or "black lung," and similar illnesses take many years of persistent exposure to very fine particles of dust, the letter stated.

"Typically, those long-term illnesses are more of a concern for people working in a mining operation or something similar for long periods of time," said Cameron Boyle, Lehi's assistant city administrator.

Workers in such conditions, both Boyle and the city's letter pointed out, are monitored and protected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Transient exposure, or exposure from being in close proximity to the dust particles, poses no significant health risk, Boyle said.

Although the airborne dust was said to pose no significant health risk, the city used the public's concern as an opportunity to start a wider initiative: forming the Environmental Sustainability Committee.

The committee will address air pollution, vehicle idling, stormwater pollution and other health and environmental concerns.

Boyle said the mayor wants to make forming the committee a priority in 2019.

"We're researching other similar committees in other communities," Boyle said.

City officials, Boyle added, have met with the Division of Air Quality to make sure operations in the area are meeting their dust mitigation requirements. The division requires companies that stir up dust to meet certain opacity levels.

The city's letter informed residents that they can submit an air quality complaint on the Division of Air Quality website, where a representative responds to complaints and ensures compliance by monitoring opacity levels.

The letter also includes links to other resources on the topic of dust in the air, including a video and slides from LeFevre's presentation to the City Council in August, where he explained in depth how he and his colleagues evaluated whether it was harmful.