OGDEN — When the pollution caused by winter inversion spikes, it gets tough for Rosaline Hester’s 10-year-old son, Rajheem, who suffers from asthma.

“Some days it’s just not good for him,” she said. He typically carries an inhaler, she said, but even so, on the worst days “he struggles to breathe.”

Hester’s 17-year-old car was actually part of the problem — it failed the emissions test required to get new tags for her license plates. But now, thanks to a new program launched this spring in Weber County to help clean the skies over Northern Utah, Hester has a new, cleaner-running auto.

VRRAP

A truck emitting black exhaust travels on 2nd Street in Ogden on July 26, 2019. The Weber-Morgan Health Department has launched a program to help owners of cars that don't pass emissions testing fix the autos or get vehicles that comply with emissions guidelines.

By itself, the acquisition won’t solve the persistent air issues here; it won’t completely clean the air for Rajheem. But little by little, the aim is to get older autos off the streets and roads here, chipping away at the pollution problem. It’s a problem that is particularly pronounced in the winter when the inversion effect is strongest, trapping dirty air along the Wasatch Front.

Auto emissions, said Scott Braeden, manger of the Weber-Morgan Health Department‘s environmental health program, are the single biggest source of air pollution in the Salt Lake City Nonattainment Area, or SLCNA. The SLCNA covers Box Elder, Weber, Davis, Salt Lake and Tooele counties, and the zone is designated as such by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because of poor air quality.

In fact, the oldest, dirtiest autos — even if they’re a minority of cars on the roads — account for an outsized share of vehicular pollution, said Brian Moench, president of the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment Board of Directors. He lauded the initiative, which also extends to the other SLCNA counties.

“The more of these particular kind of cars we can get off the road, the better,” Moench said. “They’re doing a real service to the public.”

Weber County received a $1.22 million grant to implement the program here, with some $4.5 million in all earmarked for the five SLCNA counties. Since the program’s launch in March, 13 car owners have tapped into it in Weber County — four to get repairs on their cars’ emission systems and nine, including Hester, to get newer cars. Together, the 13 have received $35,000 in help via the program, called the Vehicle Repair and Replacement Assistance Program, or VRRAP, leaving more than $1.1 million still to be distributed.

The program is geared toward owners of cars that fail emissions tests, with funds provided to qualified applicants on a sliding scale based on household income. Typically, 7% of cars in Weber County getting such tests fail, according to Braeden.

“A vehicle that fails an emissions inspection is often 100 times dirtier than when its emissions systems are maintained and in good repair,” reads the application for grant funds, provided by the Weber-Morgan Health Department. What’s more, some 26% of cars in the SLCNA were built in 2003 or before, prior to implementation of newer, more rigorous emission standards for cars.

Qualified owners of cars dating to 2003 or before may get funds for replacement vehicles, while owners of cars made in 2004 or thereafter may get funds for repairs. The maximum amount applicants may seek is $1,000 for repairs or $5,000 for a replacement car. Details are on the Weber-Morgan Health Department website at webermorganhealth.org/VRRAP.

“This program was definitely the key to me getting a car, because I didn’t have money for a down payment,” said Hester.

The 2016 Nissan she acquired replaces a 2003 Chevy that had many, many problems. But beyond relieving the headaches of dealing with the persistent mechanical issues, getting her old car off the road will reduce emissions into the skies of Northern Utah, helping, just a little, to clean the air for her son and others. “It’s definitely a good program,” Hester said.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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