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What Utah areas scored high for low pollution? Answers are surprising

Two counties in southern Utah scored well on American Lung Association pollution report card

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Hazy air pollution fills the Salt Lake Valley.

Hazy air pollution fills the Salt Lake Valley on Dec. 7, 2020. Counties along the Wasatch Front all flunked a three-year assessment by the American Lung Association for high levels of ozone — or ground level smog that seeps into your lungs and causes harm to respiratory and pulmonary health.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Counties along the Wasatch Front all flunked a three-year assessment by the American Lung Association for high levels of ozone — or ground level smog that seeps into your lungs and causes harm to respiratory and pulmonary health.

Hot summers and active wildfires are, in part, to blame.

The three years covered by “State of the Air” 2022 — 2018, 2019 and 2020 — ranked among the seven hottest years on record globally. Spikes in particle pollution and high ozone days related to wildfires and extreme heat are putting millions more people at risk and adding challenges to the work that states and cities are doing to clean up air pollution, the report said.  

The Salt Lake City-Provo-Orem area was among the top 10 places in the country suffering from ozone, but of those 10 areas, six were in California, the American Lung Associationreport said.

Seven areas in California, too, scored in the top 10 for worst year-round pollution, a list that Utah missed landing on.

Utah notoriously gets dinged in those assessments, but surprisingly in this latest report some areas in the state secured the right to brag. When it comes to particulate pollution, both Washington and Iron counties got A grades. Iron County also got an A grade for its level of ozone.

In fact, St. George ranked No. 8 for the best cities for year-round particle pollution, tying with Bismarck, North Dakota; Elmira-Corning, New York; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

West is not the best

The notion of the wide open West being an antidote to escape the ills of an urban civilization is tested in this latest report by the lung association.

“Spikes in particle pollution and high ozone days related to wildfires and extreme heat are putting millions more people at risk and adding challenges to the work that states and cities are doing across the nation to clean up air pollution,” it said.

The American Lung Association notes that there has been a flip over the years in where pollution is concentrated.

“Fifteen years ago, in the 2007 “State of the Air” report, 136 counties in 36 states got failing grades for spikes in particle pollution, including 31 counties in seven states west of the Rocky Mountains, “ the report said.

But in 2022, 96 counties in 15 states got failing grades for short-term particles, and 86 of them were in 11 Western states. 

The organization blames record heat in the West and more extreme wildfires. Additionally, the West is experiencing record growth in population.

That population growth is being keenly felt in Utah, which was the fastest growing state in the nation from 2010 to 2020 — but much of that was “homegrown.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed to downgrade the northern Wasatch Front from marginal to moderate in nonattainment for its failure to meet the 2015 federal standard for ozone pollution. It is also poised to classify the southern Wasatch Front as being a marginal nonattainment area for ozone.