Doctors Asking For Health Emergency In Salt Lake City

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

There should be no climate change skeptics left in Salt Lake City, as doctors in the area are asking Utah leaders to declare a public health emergency due to winter smog.

A cloud of air pollution is sitting atop Salt Lake City, causing those who are pregnant or suffer from asthma to stay indoors.

Doctors are urging leaders to take steps in trying to reduce the smog, such as dropping freeway speeds limits and making mass transit free. Over 100 doctors signed a letter delivered to Governor Gary Herbert’s Capitol office on Wednesday.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has singled out the greater Salt Lake region as having the nation’s worst air for much of January. This region had up to 130 micrograms of soot per cubic meter on Wednesday, which is more than three times the federal clean-air limit.

Northern Utah valley residents have experienced the winter smog nearly every day since Christmas, and a storm that covered the ground with snow just weeks ago has only helped pollution levels ramp up.

The snow cover has amplified the phenomenon, which is known as temperature inversion. The city remained at 18 degrees on Wednesday, while Park City, a popular ski resort in the mountains, was at 43-degree weather. The warmer air made its way right past Salt Lake City, as the smog acted like a lid to keep the warmer air out.

Pollution gets trapped in valley bowls during high-pressure events and manufactures itself by mixing with other airborne pollutants.

Authorities in the area have prohibited wood burning and urged people to limit their driving, as vehicle emissions account for more than half of the trapped pollutants. Utah regulators are even working on plans to ban the sale of aerosol deodorants and hairspray that contain hydrocarbon propellants.

The microscopic soot can bury itself deep in the lungs and Salt Lake City pediatrician Ellie Brownstein told the Associated Press it’s like smoking.

“Instead of breathing clean air, you’re breathing particles that make it harder for your lungs to function and get oxygen,” Brownstein said.

Brian Moench, a 62-year-old anesthesiologist and president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment said every pregnant woman breathing in the smog is threatening her fetus through chromosome damage. He said in the letter this could set people up for a lifelong propensity for all sorts of diseases.

“Furthermore,” the letter says, “we know from thousands of medical studies that people are dying in our community right now because of the air pollution and its role in triggering strokes, heart attacks, congestive heart failure, fatal arrhythmias, lung diseases and infections and infant mortality.”

Salt Lake City residents aren’t the only ones having to deal with the smog because tourism is at a high point with both ski season and the 2013 Sundance Film Festival going on. A large chunk of the movie industry, and fans alike, are passing through the smog-ridden city in order to head up to the mountains in Park City for the festival.

The Sundance Film Festival is the largest independent American festival that takes place in Utah every year, with nearly 50,000 attendees in 2012.

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