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COLUMN: Cache Valley’s thinkers need to find a solution to the air problem

By Paul Christiansen
On January 22, 2014

As I sat in the crowded waiting room of Logan's Intermountain InstaCare clinic Tuesday afternoon, I couldn't help but look at faces that looked very much like mine. More than a dozen patients were flipping through past issues of Time Magazine and Sports Illustrated, and at least two-thirds of those waiting their turn to see a doctor were wearing surgical masks to keep out harmful germs and matter in the air.

I was no exception — I've been afflicted with a respiratory malady for nearly a week, and it's steadily been getting worse.

I first noticed something was amiss while scaling the many stairs of Old Main Hill on my way to class Friday. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not in peak physical condition — I've definitely gained a few pounds in my comparatively old age — but I was astounded to find myself winded once I got to the top. Then I turned to face west, and I saw what I'm sure is a contributing factor.

A yellow haze covered the valley, blocking out many of the lowest points from view and obscuring the details of the landmarks that were closer to me.

If you're like me, fellow Aggies, you don't like your air to look like it's made of something solid that you can carve up like a turkey. Sadly, this has become the societal norm we face here in Cache Valley and much of Northern Utah.

Forecasters for the Environmental Protection Agency have predicted Logan's air quality will be the worst in the country this week, with Provo and Salt Lake City not far behind. But even if we don't reach that No. 1 position, Logan will be one of the country's five cities with the worst air.

These hazes of thick and dangerous air are associated with inversions — when a warm high pressure weather system traps cool air and pollution into a valley bowl. The worst of these inversion events, known as red air days, are dangerous for the very young, very old and those with respiratory illnesses and heart disease.

Or anyone who likes to breathe and has a pulse.

When this sensitive matter is brought up in council meetings across the state — as recently as March in Cache County — citizens often look for someone to whom the finger of blame can be pointed. Some say the poor air is caused by increased motor vehicle emissions during winter months. Others say business and industry are to blame because of unenforced and lax regulations on contaminants and the legal quantities that can be released into our air. And still others blame the problem on the valley's large cattle population and the methane their waste releases.

The absolute truth is that all of these factors — and many others — play a part in the problem. But instead of passing the blame onto someone else, we as citizens should step back, take a deep breath — well, maybe we shouldn't do that — and see what we can each do individually.

Utah obviously needs stricter regulations on industry. We live in a state where the common man believes that corporations are people, but those corporations aren't hacking up a lung from coughing up the black filth flowing out of smokestacks. State representatives don't want to discourage business from moving into Utah, but the health of the citizens is being sacrificed for a monetary gain. I realize there are complex factors to a cost-benefit analysis, but it seems like it's costing the vast majority their health and only benefiting the bank accounts of a few. Those of us who are concerned should contact our representatives and set them straight.12

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