Former Utah governor calls for cleaner air

By By Dan Treasure, Staff Writer

By Dan Treasure, Staff Writer

Former Utah Gov. Olene Walker personally feels the effects of Utah’s poor air quality.

At a forum held Wednesday at the Hinckley Institute of Politics, Walker said she has idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis8212;a disease in which air quality is a factor.

“When I was governor, I don’t recall ever speaking about air quality, but somehow fate has driven me to be involved in air quality issues,” Walker said. “The quality of air does make a difference where people live. If I said that the air quality is worse than when I was young though, I would be false. But is it good enough?”

The forum was held in collaboration with Utah Foundation and also featured Bryce Bird, manager of the Air Standards Branch of the Utah Division of Air Quality, and Brigham Young University professor Arden Pope, one of the world’s most widely cited and recognized air pollution experts.

Walker described the dangers the new coal-powered plants currently being built pose to the health of Utahns.

“Their argument (for building a coal instead of a gas plant) is it’s 80 percent cleaner than the old power plants,” she said. “But let me just read how much it’ll put in the air.”

Walker said that in one year, coal-powered plants emit more than 1,300 tons of sulfur dioxide, a known lung irritant. During that time period, other harmful chemicals are also released, including more than 100 tons of ammonia, more than 1,600 tons of nitrogen oxide and more than 5 tons of lead.

“Now, if this is clean power producing we’re in real trouble,” Walker said.

Pope said there is a strong connection between air pollutants and short- and long-term health problems, citing studies done by the Harvard School of Public Health and the U School of Medicine.

“Changes in air pollution in the valleys along the Wasatch front are associated with respiratory hospitalizations, especially for children, measures of lung functions, measures of respiratory symptoms and increased school absences certainly due to respiratory illnesses,” Pope said. “Increased exposure to air pollution, even day-to-day changes in air pollution, were associated with changes in both respiratory and cardiovascular deaths.”

Bird said Utah’s air quality isn’t that bad. He said the Utah Division of Air Quality has been monitoring Utah since 1958.

“The majority of time in the state we have good air quality. We have winter inversions that are infrequent, present roughly 30 to 40 days a year,” Bird said.

Bird said his division is focusing on improving air quality in the Cache Valley and the Washington county area, because those areas have the highest potential for air quality issues in the future.

[email protected]

Erik Daenitz

Steve Kroes leads a Hinckley with former Gov. Olene Walker and others. The topic they talked about was cleaning Utah’s air.