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Steve Griffin, KSL

Doctors group says studies show air pollution even more damaging than we thought

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue, KSL | Posted - Jan. 30, 2019 at 7:02 a.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — A survey of scientific evidence of air pollution's harmful effects from nearly 100 studies, including a local probe, demonstrates that even limited exposure can produce some nasty consequences.

The study of studies involves findings from nearly 100 distinct bodies of research and was performed by the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, a local clean air advocacy organization made up of physicians.

"UPHE reviewed more than 100 new studies, all of which strengthened the evidence that air pollution is indeed a much more serious health hazard than we thought even five years ago," said Dr. Brian Moench in a prepared statement.

"Among the most alarming studies was yet another one that showed air pollution can damage DNA in germ cells prior to conception. Specifically, pollution inhaled today, by young people and prospective, future parents, can harm the health of their future children. There is an obvious and powerful moral to that story. Even the health of future generations is being compromised by Wasatch Front air pollution."

The doctors group announced a summary of its findings on Tuesday to coincide with the first week of the Utah Legislature and to increase awareness as northern Utah struggles with episodic inversions that bring on pollution spikes.

Advocates are keeping an eye on the recommendation made by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert that lawmakers take $100 million in one-time money to throw at programs to reduce harmful emissions.

Some groups have called for a pilot program with free fare days offered by the Utah Transit Authority or an increased pool of money made available to change out pollution-emitting lawn mowers and snowblowers.

Break down:

The doctors' group pointed to numerous 2018 studies that demonstrated links between air pollution exposure and adverse outcomes to men and women's reproductive health.

A University of Utah study showed links between air pollution exposure and increased incidences of miscarriage.

Another bevy of studies broke new ground by demonstrating a connection between air pollution and Lou Gehrig's disease, increased lapses in multiple sclerosis and increased risk of stroke and mortality from stroke.

Infections, too, were demonstrably linked to air pollution. On the Wasatch Front, a local study surveyed a patient population of 100,000 people and showed that even short-term exposure lasting only several days caused an uptick in serious lower respiratory infections.

A view of Salt Lake City from the Primary Children's Hospital parking lot on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018. The city buildings began to become less clear from this vantage point. (Photo: Carter Williams,

Utah's regulators are in the midst of the development of a pollution plan after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deemed the Salt Lake area in "serious" nonattainment in meeting the 24-hour standard for fine particulate pollution, or PM2.5.

That type of pollution can easily enter the lungs with it being the size of just 3 percent the diameter of a human hair.

A number of technology upgrades are being undertaken by industrial polluters to the tune of nearly $100 million.

Other rules impacting household products such as hairspray and varnish to reduce volatile organic compounds are already in place across the Wasatch Front.

With 50 percent of the area's fine particulate pollution, area refineries are bringing on cleaner Tier 3 fuels.

The collection of findings are of particular significance in light of the region's increasing exposure to more pollutants from catastrophic wildfires and the fallout from industrial and economic development poised to happen along the Wasatch Front, including Point of the Mountain and the northwest quadrant.

"We need action, we cannot pass this problem off to the next generation," said the group's executive director, Jonny Vasic. "There are solutions, but it starts with awareness and needs the combined effort of the community with strong political will from our leaders."


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