Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Pollution Crisis over Salt Lake - Utah

When most people think of the Great Salt Lake of Utah, they associate the area with great skiing, the 2002 Olympics, and captivating scenic views. Recently however, a dark cloud has plagued Salt Lake City with issues of pollution and worsening air quality. So bad in fact, that doctors of the area are even declaring a health emergency for the city of Salt Lake and other neighboring towns. Officials are taking extreme measures to address this pressing issue by increasing public transportation in hopes of reducing green house gas admissions and other pollutants from car exhaust. In addition, city officials are also asking that employees work from their homes to help reduce emissions of air pollutants.

The EPA’s standard for micrograms of pollution (µg/m3) is set at 35 per cubic meter of air. Salt Lake’s levels are well over three times this limit, levels that are worse at times than Beijing. In early February, levels of pollution even spiked at 120 µg/m3 leaving scientists and climate change experts puzzled and at a standstill.

The reasons for Salt Lake’s pollution are strongly related to the city’s geographic location and terrain. Salt Lake rests about 1,320 meters (4,330 feet) above sea level. At that altitude, the air is considerably thinner and lighter in density. In addition to this, the city lies in a bowl, almost completely surrounded by mountain peaks. When mass amounts of pollutants are released in these conditions, they become trapped in the bowl by the hovering warmer air through a process called inversion. The warmer air traps the pollutants by acting as a blanket over the bowl. When the Salt Lake freezes in the winter, its frozen surface acts as a mirror which reflects sunlight and heat into the atmosphere. This warms the air and traps even more pollutants which worsens the smog. It is a vicious cycle that is frustrating scientists and local residents.

Hope is not lost for Salt Lake though. Experts and specialists are working efficiently and diligently to preserve one of America’s most beautiful attractions. Low-chemical consumer products are being introduced to the area that will help lower pollutants and green house gasses while bans on burning wood and coal have already been in place. In addition to this, the transportation department has reshaped their public transportation plans, and smokestack industries in the area must cut their emissions by another 5% in the near future. Initiatives are being taken by high-ranking officials and scientists, now they need the public’s help and willingness to cooperate with these new measures in place. Only then will the smog clear.

Photo reference:
Chris Detrick, The Salt Lake Tribune,


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