A Sad State: Seeing Orange Makes Me See Red

Jan.19, 2017

I have the perfect view of the Wasatch Mountains outside my kitchen window. In the summer months, I watch the sun rise over majestic purple peaks. Yesterday, however, the mountains were cut off three-quarters down, with barely a top nosing above an ocean of gray clouds; the inversion, the Wasatch Front’s version of pollution-hide-and-seek.

Yesterday’s Air Quality color was Orange. Orange means that the quality of the air we’re breathing is unhealthy for “sensitive groups”.

I looked up who was included in this particular group and discovered they’re people with lung cancer, children/teenagers, older adults, and people who are athletic outdoors. What? Who’s left?

Later, I traveled through this pollution-soup from the Salt Lake Valley into Davis County. As I bumped along I15, the smog was so thick I couldn’t see downtown Salt Lake until I was right on it. I also noticed a line of oil refineries puffing away the gray haze.

Everyone in Utah knows about the inversion that comes every winter, particularly over the Salt Lake Valley. We are acquainted with the air quality codes, somewhat, but what do they mean? I looked that up, too.

According to air.utah.gov, these are the color rankings: Green means the air quality is good. Yellow means the air quality is adequate. Orange is unhealthy air for sensitive types. Red means straight out unhealthy for everyone. Purple indicates the air is “very unhealthy”, and finally there is the color, maroon, or as I saw it, Oxblood, meaning the air quality is “Hazardous”.

As far as I can tell, unless the ranking is green, someone feels health issues due to the air we’re breathing.

It means when the meteorologist announces there is a specified color you are expected to avoid breathing that air as much as possible. What? What do we do hold our breath?

KSL.com posted an article on January 16, 2017, sponsored by Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR) titled, “6 myths about Utah’s air quality debunked”.  The title alone made me feel a little better. Then I read it.

The article breaks into six paragraphs labeled Myths 1-6 with subtitles such as, “Lighting a fire in the fireplace now and then really isn’t a big deal”, and “When air quality is poor outdoors, it is also bad inside”. Beneath each myth is the word fact in bold followed by an explanation of why the statement is false, and then gives a solution.

The solutions are, use a gas fireplace over a wood burning one. If the air is bad outside, stay inside where the air is “dramatically better”, and use a snow shovel over a snow blower. Am I missing something? Has there been a rash of gas-guzzling snow blowers lately? What’s next, using scissors to cut grass rather than a lawn mower?

Also, the solution to simply stay inside when the air quality is horrendous outside, makes as much sense as giving a candy bar to someone who’s starving—yes it’s calorie-laden, but is it nutritious?

Yes, of course, we need to figure out a way to stop this pollution, or at least lessen it by a lot. But to ignore the smoke belching factories along Refinery Row is ridiculous.

To add to this disillusionment, KSL.com posted this as news rather than what it really is, an advertisement for Governor Herbert and his program. Isn’t this a conflict of interest?

I support carpooling and setting your inside thermostat two degrees lower (I’m as uncomfortable without heat in the winter as I am uncomfortable without air conditioning in the summer), and I’m vigilant about the upkeep of my cars, but it’s not just individuals to be blamed.

The Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (uphe.org), states that Rio Tinto/Kennecott Copper Mine is responsible for thirty percent of that dirty air in Salt Lake County. Oil refineries come in second as being the biggest contributors to our bad air quality. If this is true, which I believe it is, does what I do really matter that much?

Today is another Orange day. Outside my kitchen window, there is no trace of the majestic mountain range I love, only gray. It’s snowing, a little, and snowflakes swirl in the air like white ash. Although after this storm the projected color ranking of tomorrow will be green, I keep thinking, so what? I’m here now, today.

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