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SALT LAKE CITY — It took a group of fifth graders in Utah expressing their concerns to school administrators about the fumes they were breathing from bus fleets to help spark Utah’s idle-free movement.
Since then, the movement has grown into an avid advocacy program and a campaign called “Idle Free Utah,” said Tammie Bostick, Utah Clean Cities Coalition executive director, at the 12th annual Governor Declaration for Idle Free in Utah at the state Capitol Monday.
The campaign eventually drew the support of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and this September marks the 12th anniversary of his idle-free declaration, which has been signed by 72 Utah mayors. During Monday’s declaration, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, in Herbert’s absence, declared the month and the 2019-20 winter season as idle-free.
Additionally, 10 Utah cities have idle-free ordinances or resolutions in place, and four school districts including Salt Lake City, Park City, Canyons and Granite, have committed to idle-free campuses.
Whether people are at school waiting to pick up their children or sitting at a drive-thru line, Bostick said drivers should be cognizant of idling their vehicles.
“We all know that idling emits dangerous particulate matter. And they are particularly of concern to us at our schools,” Bostick said.
Bostick said half of Utah’s emissions come from vehicles, and half of those come from fleet vehicles. She said her organization works to educate the community about the economic and environmental benefits of using clean fuels and vehicles.
Draper resident Erika Doty first became concerned with air quality when her children’s asthma symptoms worsened during the winter months.
“As a mom, I was curious and dove into the research and started to learn about emissions and what was in our air,” she said.
Doty said her research and advocacy led to organizing an idle-free week at her child’s elementary school, which caught the attention of Draper City Council members. After engaging with her community and educating the city’s local leaders, Draper became the most recent city to pass an idle-free resolution this summer.
“Once folks are educated and they understand the issue and the data that’s behind it, they support it,” Doty said.
Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, said everyone can do their part to “clean up the air and be idle free,” and little changes like turning a car off can lead to making a big difference.
“It is a threat to our health, our economy and the kind of future that we want here in Utah,” she said.
Harrison, who is a practicing anesthesiologist, said air pollution increases a person’s risk of lung and heart disease, cancer, strokes, autism and pregnancy complications like preterm births.
“Our air pollution hurts my patients, it hurts our families and it significantly impacts our kids, whose bodies and lungs are still developing,” Harrison said.
Harrison said people like Doty “illustrate the fact that citizens can make a difference in their community.”
“They saw a need, they got involved, they researched, they organized, they rallied, they had an impact in our community and kudos to them,” she said.
Schools, particularly pick-up and drop-off areas, are “hot pockets” for air pollution. Children are especially vulnerable to bad air quality as they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults, she said.
Family medicine and sports medicine physician Liz Joy, of Intermountain Healthcare, said her interest in air quality stems from her move to Utah from Minnesota and learning about Utah’s winter inversions. As a promoter of outdoor physical activity, she focused her efforts on air quality and health.
“We know that our air quality is getting better here in Utah, but we have a ways to go,” Joy said. “We have to make sure that people are informed so they can act to protect the health of themselves and their loved ones.”
Joy, who is part of a team that educates health providers and patients about air quality and health, said tailpipe emissions contribute “significantly” to poor air quality.
For the past 10 to 20 years, Cox said it’s been interesting to watch the debate on how to keep Utah’s air clean.
“It’s so important that we recognize that this is not a partisan issue. This is a health issue,” he said. “This is good for everyone.”
Cox said he is grateful for children who are helping to change their parents’ habits.
“When kids are telling their parents to stop idling, parents start to listen, and those bad habits go away,” he said.