Smog Problem Spreads to Rural Parts of State

Smog Problem Spreads to Rural Parts of State

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Environment Specialist John Hollenhorst reporting

Officials voted last night to impose mandatory restrictions on wood-burning stoves in the Cache Valley, as another Utah region develops a smog problem.

"We're getting increased reports from a health standpoint of people who have underlying problems with asthma," says Dr. John Bailey with the Bear River Health Department.

It's a sign of the times in what used to be rural Utah. As people move to areas like Logan and the Cache Valley, so does the pollution. Could the smog problem in Logan be as bad as the problem in the Salt Lake Valley?

Not always. In fact some people up in Cache Valley don't perceive it as much of a problem. But some days, the air up there is downright unhealthy.

Some places still look like a Norman Rockwell painting, but the Cache Valley air is murky, obscuring those beautiful steep mountains they like to brag about.

"It's more polluted now than it used to be," says Sandy Nielsen, who lives in Hyrum.

"It's not as bad as Salt Lake, where I'm from, but it's still pretty bad up here," says Jen Woolsey, a Utah State University student.

In fact, the data shows it is sometimes worse in Cache Valley. Small particle pollution here violated federal health limits two years in a row.

"And we're worried about going into a third year, which will possibly trip up some mandatory E.P.A. requirements here," Bailey says.

So the Board of Health is imposing its own regulations. A mandatory red-green-yellow program forbidding visible smoke from chimneys on red days.

"It really hasn't bothered me, right. It doesn't. But I think it's a good idea that we do have restrictions on woodburning stoves and etcetera," says Kenna Smith, who commutes from Malad.

The reason it's happening is that farmland is becoming city. Cache Valley population has more than doubled in 30 years. It's now pushing 100,000.

"The population density is increasing, and couple that with the unique geography of the area, where we're really socked in on three sides, and when you get an inversion, it just doesn't clear out," Bailey says.

Officials admit, though, that chimneys are less than 10 percent of the problem. The real problem is cars.

Vehicle pollution programs remain voluntary. But it's a growing concern. Some are glad the first mandatory step has been taken, even if it's only aimed at chimneys.

"I think it's a good idea. I think it looks towards the future kind of, and so that we can see that if we take care of the problem now, it may not be so bad later," Nielsen says.

The new rules kicking in January 1 are similar to what we've had for several years here in Salt Lake.

Experience shows compliance jumps from 40 percent in a voluntary program, to more than 90 percent when it's mandatory.

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