Bill introduced to list air pollution as factor on death certificates

Jan 19, 2022, 5:10 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 6:23 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – The air pollution on the Wasatch Front is unhealthy in most of our neighborhoods today. But, is it deadly? A Utah lawmaker is introducing a bill that hones in on that issue.

House Bill 109 would allow air pollution to be listed as a factor in a person’s death on an official death certificate. That may be difficult for a doctor to determine. But, the bill sponsor believes the issue is critical.

“It’s horrible out here today. It’s a terrible problem,” said Representative Stephen Handy looking out over the Salt Lake Valley from the steps of the Utah Capitol.

Like most Utahns, Handy wants to breathe healthier air. As co-chair of the bipartisan Clean Air Caucus he’s introducing House Bill 109.

“The bill would allow an attending physician to consider the causes of air pollution as a contributing factor of death,” Handy said.

Research from a BYU professor released last year, shows air pollution shortens the life of the average Utahn by two years, and the loss of life is distributed across most of the population, not only “sensitive groups.” Those findings call Handy’s attention.

“Even with our cleaner air that we’ve had for 20 years, the mortality rate in Utah could be affected by as much as two years,” he said.

Handy believes the bill would help establish data points with which pollution could be compared in the future. He said the Utah Medical Association supports the bill.

“It will provide clarity and direction,. In fact, they said probably it’s a message bill with some teeth. So, it sends a message to people that, hey maybe we have a bigger problem than we think we do,” the representative said.

“Air pollution exposure can ultimately shorten your life,” said Ashley Miller, executive director of Breathe Utah.

She believes the bill would help acknowledge just how dangerous bad air quality can be for the health of Utah residents.

“Whether it’s long-term, or even just acute exposure, it can lead to some really serious illnesses,” Miller said. “It can exacerbate some pre-existing conditions, and ultimately lead to death.”

Handy said he has not run into any negative pushback, so far.

Although, it remains for debate whether a physician can determine if pollution was the cause of death for an individual. The bill reads: “If the attending health care professional reasonably believes air pollution factored into the cause of death, the attending health care professional may indicate on the certificate of death that air pollution factored into the cause of death.”

“We’re trying to gather data points, and trying to determine how serious really is our air pollution,” Handy said.

The bill will likely have a committee hearing in the next few weeks.

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Bill introduced to list air pollution as factor on death certificates