LOGAN — Utah's most populous cities flunked a national air quality exam but fare better today than a decade ago, according to the American Lung Association, which released its report on 2012 air quality this week.
Thursday, scientists and doctors came together to discuss solutions at an air quality summit in Logan.
Nearly one in three Utah residents stands to have worse health due to high levels of pollution, the report found. That's the proportion of Utah residents who are younger than 18, older than 65 or have asthma or heart disease. About two in five Americans, or about 131.8 million people, dealt with unhealthy levels of pollution sometime during the year.
And while Cache Valley has pristine mountain views on clear days, it often sports a thick layer of green smog, and ranks tenth worst in the nation for come-and-go pollution.
Every little bit counts in preventing air pollution, but the problem is that clear skies don't get people thinking about solutions. Instead, a lot of those changes in behaviors seem to happen during the cold inversion season as a sort of knee-jerk reaction.
But scientists aren't the only ones noticing the thick, dirty smog.
We are missing the mark in not bringing this down to the individual level.
–Dr. Michelle Hoffman
"I think, wow that's gross," said Alisha, a fourth grader at Edith Bowen Lab School.
Kyler, another fourth grader at the elementary school, has also been paying attention to the pollution.
"I describe it kind of weird-ish," Kyler said.
Kyler is part of a larger group of community leaders who came to learn about how make an impact on Utah's air pollution problem.
"I was hoping to learn about like how to stop it, and how to prevent it," Kyler said.
Several pollution experts came together for an air quality summit today to discuss why the current approach may not be working.
"We are missing the mark in not bringing this down to the individual level," said Dr. Michelle Hoffman, an assistant professor of Pediatrics at the University of Utah.
Hoffman says too many people focus on scaling back that carbon footprint only when the pollution is bad.
"The public energy on this issue just escalates to a fever pitch notch that makes it almost difficult to make the forward progress we need," Hoffman said.
I think personal choice and some of the things we can do ourselves on a voluntary basis are just as big as anything that big brother's going to come in and say this is what you have to do.
Organizers say they hope to take fighting pollution beyond government programs.
"I think personal choice and some of the things we can do ourselves on a voluntary basis are just as big as anything that big brother's going to come in and say this is what you have to do," said Lloyd Berenson, executive director of Bear River Health Department, who organized the summit.
But while the obvious solutions, like carpooling, walking, biking and not idling, can help clear the air, these experts say making a long-term change will mean breaking some deeply ingrained habits.
"The solutions are not going to be that straightforward and simple," Hoffman said.
There might even be a need to shift the way we consume energy and resources.
"It's going to be hard, it's going to require sacrifice," Hoffman said. "It's going to take difficult choices."
Utah did make some clean-air gains in 2012, the report found. St. George made the top 16 cleanest cities for particle pollution and Logan snagged a spot on the cleanest cities list for ozone.