I have pondered recently on my responsibility as a physician and member of the community to contribute to the discussion about our air quality here on the Wasatch Front. Should I sit idly by? Or should I jump in?
Two recent events, one personal and one public, have convinced me of the need to speak up. First, the personal story.
A colleague of mine described the recent death of a friend’s 29-year-old son. He was an asthmatic and was struggling mightily this month to breathe, more so than usual.
The young man lived at home with his parents, and simply died one evening of his asthma, alone and unattended.
The other event was public. Despite a petition from 140 physicians in the area declaring that the quality of our air represents an emergency public health threat, Utah’s chief executive, Gov. Gary Herbert, has assured us that such is not the case.
In short, he has told us that everything that can be done is being done, and that tailpipe emissions are the biggest problem contributing to this “nonemergency.”
While this is not altogether accurate, tailpipe emissions do contribute significantly to the problem we are currently experiencing.
Until the time when our elected leaders deal with industrial pollution along the Wasatch Front in a meaningful way, with restrictions on emissions on Rio Tinto and its Bingham copper pit, and the Woods Cross Chevron refinery to name a couple of the biggest producers of PM 2.5, we as citizens can and must act on our behalf.
It is true that PM 2.5 levels this winter have exceeded by 3 to 5 times the safe and allowable levels for a human to breathe according to the EPA.
These levels are the standards set by the Clean Air Act.
PM 2.5 is basically the major component of the soot that we see in our air that is filling all our lungs during this winter’s inversions.
One of the recommendations to reduce tailpipe emissions is a very simple one. We have been asked not to allow our cars to sit idle with the engine running for longer than 1 to 2 minutes.
In Salt Lake County a driver can receive a ticket for exceeding this time limit.
This is an easy thing, and only requires us to turn off the engine.
There are many in the community who ascribe to a health code. There are certain dos and don’ts associated with this health code.
One tenant is to avoid the use of tobacco products. I wonder if the members of that community of believers realize that breathing air with PM 2.5 levels greater than 100 ppm is very similar to the activity of putting a lit cigarette in one’s mouth and inhaling repeatedly.
These are the levels of this soot which have been in our air for much of January 2013. Brigham Young said once, “What constitutes health, wealth, joy and peace? In the first place, good, pure air is the greatest sustainer of animal life.”
One can only imagine what Brother Brigham would say if he were standing today on Temple Square during one of our red -lert days and could see what we have done to his Zion paradise.
If you read this column and decide that this is simply more hysteria, or that the effort of not idling your car is too difficult, that is OK
But please, be honest enough with yourself to be willing to look in the mirror and say that you don’t really care whether a 29-year-old dies as a result of his asthma, and that otherwise healthy individuals will simply have to live with greatly increased risks of stroke and heart disease, from what has become the worst quality air in the United States.
Dr. Peter C. Clemens D.O, lives in Ogden.