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Air Quality Research Program
While Utah enjoys clean air during most of the year, its unique topography and meteorology make it susceptible to elevated levels of fine particulates (PM2.5) during winter inversions and ozone during the summer months. To improve scientific understanding of the complex conditions that lead to these high pollution levels, the 2014 Utah State Legislature awarded $1 million in one-time funding to the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) for air quality research. DAQ selected research projects that complement the agency’s long-term planning objectives for addressing the causes of air quality problems in the state. The 2015 Legislature has awarded DAQ an additional $200,000 to continue this research program during 2015 and 2016.
Air Quality in Utah
The State’s air quality is shaped by three factors:
- Atmospheric Chemistry
- Source Emissions
Between 2015 and 2020, DAQ anticipates that at least two major State Implementation Plan (SIP) revisions will be undertaken and completed. In addition there is the possibility that large areas of the state may be deemed noncompliant with potentially lower ozone standards. These regulatory requirements drive the need for focused problem-specific research for two reasons. The first is that fine particulate pollution during winter inversions along the Wasatch Front and ozone pollution in the oil and gas producing region of the Uinta Basin are driven by meteorological and chemical processes. These must be more completely understood in order for the State of Utah to provide effective solutions. The second reason is that as air quality health standards become more stringent, it becomes increasingly difficult to find areas in the economy where reductions in pollution can be made. This means that regulations and the costs to implement them must be targeted in the most effective and responsible way possible.
The Research Context
There are individual distinctions, but also a wide range of similarities, in the atmospheric reactions that cause PM2.5 and ozone pollution buildup. To understand these similarities and differences, we need to:
undertake monitoring field campaigns that build upon previous work in the Uinta Basin and Wasatch Front so that targeted emission reductions can be quantitatively linked to chemical precursor reactions; and,
improve air quality model performance by using the data collected from monitoring campaigns.
Long Range and Regional Transport of Pollutants
A new, lower ozone standard will require detailed quantitative knowledge at a local level to integrate with studies done by EPA and regional planning organizations. To meet this need, we need to:
- continue to develop modeling tools to partition locally generated pollution from that transported into the area, i.e., pollution we can do nothing to prevent.
Intersection of Air Quality Regulations and Health Consequences
A better understanding of specific chemicals in the air is needed because not all ozone and PM2.5 precursor gases are created equal. To improve our understanding of the relationship between these precursors and their health impacts, we need to:
- undertake chemical speciation studies to aid in targeting specific organic chemicals that achieve multiple outcomes such as reducing ozone and exposure to hazardous air pollutants; and,
- undertake research using high resolution, small area analysis to improve the granularity of our knowledge in relation to pollutant concentration buildup.
The targeted application of science tools to complex air quality questions allows the State of Utah to make use of the local scientific community to analyze these problems. This approach leverages state resources to assist environmental regulators to solve complex problems. We know that there is a wide range of expertise available to answer the questions in our own research community and we fully expect that the majority of this research would be done within the Utah research system. However, this would not preclude the use of researchers and scientific resources outside of the state.
In summary, Utah’s unique air quality problems can best be solved through local research to identify effective solutions. There are many options for mitigation available, but it is critical to let the science lead to those that are appropriate for Utah—needless control, or relying on national defaults, could harm the economy with no commensurate benefit to air quality. The result of this research effort will be a local solution for a uniquely local problem that is implemented in advance of federally prescribed time frames, thereby protecting the health and wellbeing of the citizens of Utah.
Call if you have questions:
Manager, Technical Analysis
Utah Division of Air Quality