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Group Will Ask Governor to Take Action on Air Quality

Group Will Ask Governor to Take Action on Air Quality

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Paul Nelson, KSL NewsradioA group of Utah doctors say the dirty air in the Salt Lake valley is causing long term health risks. They say they've been closely researching all the data, and the news is worse than they thought. They say even when the air is clean, the damage is adding up.

Today physicians will call on Governor Jon Huntsman to do something about our air quality, which they say has reached crisis levels.

Members of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment say the air quality is so bad a public health catastrophe looms if something isn't done.

Today specialists will present a plan to curb the problem.

During the summer and winter months, they say our air quality is often the worst in the nation. In fact, just this winter we had a record number of bad air-quality days.

As you look outside on days like today, it's not nearly as murky outside as it was during January. Some doctors say that doesn't really matter. Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment Chair Dr. Brian Moench says his group will officially unveil the health impacts today at LDS Hospital. He says he was surprised to see what those impacts were. "The more we study and the more we learn about what the medical science has to tell us," says Dr. Brian Moench, "the more alarmed we get about what the real public health impacts are from air pollution."

He's talking about mercury. "Mercury is considered by the EPA as the most hazardous component of air pollution," Moench says. "It will result in an increase in strokes, heart attacks, deaths related to pulmonary infections and interestingly enough it's also associated with increased infant mortality, low birth weight syndrome, as is smoking, and sudden infant death syndrome."

Pediatrician Shellie Ring says children have a specific risk with air pollution. "Children are especially affected because they spend more time outside, they spend more time playing outside, they're more active than adults, and they require more oxygen than adults because they have higher minute ventilation and a higher metabolic rate."

Ring says nearly 80 percent of the air sacs in the lungs develop after a child is born. Many children who develop in a polluted area never reach their full potential of lung capacity. "Exposure to diesel fuel exhaust results in a byproduct of benzene and benzene has been linked now to childhood leukemia and also central nervous system tumors which make up two-thirds of all childhood cancers."

She says bad air can have a terrible effect on pregnant women. "Basically, if a mother chooses, or a pregnant mother chooses not to smoke, if she lives in an area of high pollution, her baby is smoking."

Doctors say the particles that cause long-term health problems are still inside the lungs, even when the air is cleaned up by wind or a storm.

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