University of Utah student Nirali Patel knows about the Salt Lake Valley’s air pollution problems when the cold, inversion-inducing months hit. She sees it and breathes it like every other resident across the Wasatch Front.
Patel, though, isn’t just trying to cut down on emissions herself, she wants to spread the word about pollution and one by one, encourage people to change even small habits in their lives.
On Wednesday, Patel, along with the Lowell Bennion Community Service Center at the U, hosted a panel featuring local industry leaders and environmental groups to discuss what is ailing the valley’s pollution nemesis.
“If we keep educating more and more people, everybody will start to think, ‘Hey, maybe I should do something, maybe I won’t burn a wood fire this year, maybe I’ll buy something that’s electric versus gas,’” Patel, a senior majoring in biology, said. “Small things like that start to build up over time. That’s what this is about, trying to give people a light bulb.”
About 40 people gathered inside the room to hear five panelists—Todd Bingham, CEO of the Utah Manufacturers Association; Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek; Kerry Kelly, chair of the Utah State Air Quality Policy Board; Daniel Mendoza, a postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Pulmonary in the U’s School of Medicine; and Jared Campbell, an advisory board member of Breathe Utah—share their perspectives on the push for cleaner air.
Their message: Personal responsibility can go a long way to improving inversion impacts.
Mendoza, who often bikes near Legacy Parkway, said some of the best chances at improving air quality come down to education.
“Too many times, I see small things the community can do but they’re not aware of,” he said. “For example, the obvious one is the idling, but another one is too many times over the summer, I see small children sitting in the lawn while their parents are mowing and the exhaust is right at their breathing height.
“They don’t know the harm that is causing.”
That education even reaches the State Capitol. Arent, who has worked on a number of clean-air bills in the past, said there will again be a variety of bills this upcoming legislative session and has already filed one herself regarding air quality emissions testing.
As far as response from residents in her district, though, she said she hardly hears from anyone “unless there’s a really bad inversion.”
“The timing doesn’t work perfectly with the legislative session, either, because as the end of the session comes up and we’re passing big groups of bills and we’re doing the appropriations for air quality, the air is starting to clean up,” Arent said. “So I think it’s really important that everybody be very, very involved.”
And when it comes to Utah’s manufacturers, a key figure in the emissions equation, they are also starting the personal responsibility discussion, Bingham said. That conversation is something they weren’t even talking about 20 years ago, he said during the panel. Those kinds of developments can include carpools, proximity to public transit and more electric vehicle charging stations.
“We’re trying to work with organizations like Breathe Utah and find common ground,” Bingham said. “Where can we move the needle? … [Manufacturers are] so heavily regulated, we can’t really go anywhere else and still have gasoline for our vehicles so how do we find the areas we can all make an impact on?
“That’s probably personal responsibility.”
That responsibility, Patel noted, is where she wants to have an influence. She also serves as the director for the center’s Environmental Action Team. The group often works with other organizations in the area, such as Tree Utah and Green Urban Box Lunch to teach students about environmental awareness.
Following Wednesday’s panel, she hopes it will help get people inspired to take another step to improve air quality.
OTHER HELPFUL RESOURCES:
Envision Utah’s Clean Air Action Team
The Utah State Air Quality Policy Board