No commentator on the Wasatch Front's air-pollution nightmare can avoid being painted in a political light. Our unhealthy air is linked to industrial laissez-faire, urban sprawl, a society based on the automobile, exploding population and, of course, the God-given right of every Utahn to drive wherever the heck they want. In short, it can't get any more political.
But Gary Kunkel, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Utah, can claim expertise and scientific objectivity, even if he is an energy policy analyst for Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. His guest column in The Salt Lake Tribune is a good place for citizens to start to in making sense out of the escalating debate on how clear the air.
First off, Kunkel argues that we are not doomed by geography to have choking air:
It’s true inversion makes it harder to have clean air, but also true that if we didn’t emit any pollutants, our inversions would mainly be noticeable as colder temperatures, without a significant health or visibility impact.
He addresses where the fault lies—about half the gunk is from large industrial polluters and the other half from private citizens commuting and burning firewood, etc. Kunkel lauds the governor's calls for citizens to reduce driving pollution, but says it isn't enough:
Over the longer term, industrial regulation, adoption of California car and diesel emissions standards, and giving priority to more mass transit over highway construction will ease the public health burden of our inversions.
We've got to give Kunkel points for straight talk, but any Utahn, right or left, with political savvy will wince at his use of hot-button words like "regulation" and "California" —not to mention casting aspersions on road construction.
So, until lawmakers and the governor decide to get out in front of activists and moms and docs for clean air, stock up on particle-filtering masks. Kunkel even has a recommendation for that: An N95 respirator mask, available at hardware stores, will reduce the amount of grit you inhale.