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Letter: COVID-19 and Salt Lake’s air pollution are a deadly mix

Steam rises from the Marathon refinery on a cold morning in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021.
Steam rises from the Marathon refinery on a cold morning in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

As we struggle against COVID-19, air pollution is wreaking havoc on Utah residents.

A recent study by Harvard University showed that higher levels of air pollution are associated with increased COVID-19 death rates. Unfortunately, this makes Utah residents particularly vulnerable: Salt Lake City has the seventh-worst air quality of all major metropolitan areas in the United States.

The valley’s air pollution was harming residents even before the pandemic. In January 2020, BYU researchers found that air pollution in the valley shortens Utah residents’ lives by an average of two years.

Utah needs to find solutions to air pollution quickly. A recent U.S. Public Interest Research Group report supports previous recommendations from BYU researchers to expand public transportation and encourage electric vehicles; politicians should take note.

By giving locals more access to biking, walking and public transit, Salt Lake City can reduce traffic pollution and clean up the valley’s air. Similarly, electrifying bus fleets and supporting electric vehicle charging infrastructure could help lift the smog choking the city.

There is broad consensus among Utahns that the government must improve air quality. Utah politicians need to act now to fight automobile pollution.

Mac Dressman

Champaign, Illinois