UTAH'S AIR QUALITY

Exhibit: Concerns about Utah’s air quality go back to Brigham Young

Mar 22, 2023, 7:34 PM | Updated: 8:18 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — When did Utahns start to recognize the pollution problem in the Salt Lake Valley and start to advocate for cleaner air?

That simple question led one local scientist to create a digital exhibit called The History of Air Quality in Utah.

It is a fascinating digital compilation of historical photos and articles from the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library.  It details Utah’s unique air pollution problem going back to the 1880s when Utahns referred to the winter pollution as “smoke evil” or the “smoke nuisance.”

Logan Mitchell

Logan Mitchell compiled the digital archive on the history of air quality in Utah. (KSL TV)

“If you look back in time, there’s a lot of folks who’ve been working on this problem for a really long time,” Logan Mitchell said.  He’s a climate and energy analyst at Utah Clean Energy and affiliated faculty at the University of Utah. 

The exhibit, which includes links to photos and articles expands on a research paper Mitchell wrote last year.

“There was always an awareness that this was bad for our health,” he said. 

When he first pursued the question, he thought, maybe pollution had become a public issue in the last decade or two.  As he scoured the archives, he discovered air quality has been a persistent concern as long as people have lived on the Wasatch Front. 

“People were really concerned about air quality going back to Brigham Young. He talked about how air quality is really essential for life,” Mitchell said. 

In the 1880s, editorials in the Deseret News addressed the persistent “smoke nuisance.”

Utah's air pollution

The exhibit compiles very old photos along with modern pictures of the state’s smog probles through the decades. (KSL TV)

“They didn’t talk about air quality back then,” he said. “They talked about smoke, because you could see these plumes of smoke coming out of chimneys, and they were like, ‘that is bad. That’s bad for our health.’”

A timeline in the exhibit shows incremental improvement in our air quality due to a legacy of environmental stewardship. 

Last century, when Utahns used coal to heat their homes and buildings, the bowl-like topography created some of the worst air quality in the world.

Utah air quality is continuing to get worse, says USU professor

In 1919, Salt Lake City performed the first study on urban air quality.

In the 1940s, scientists at the University of Utah started to understand that Utah’s topography and meteorology trapped the pollution during our temperature inversions. 

“It’s very clear that our air quality today is probably better than it has been since any time since probably the 1880s,” Mitchell said. 

As he dug through the digital archives, he also discovered that women took a lead role in advocating for cleaner air and better technologies. “In many ways, they were on the front lines dealing with this challenge,” he said. 

A century ago, women dealt with the soot from coal as they cleaned it out of clothes and curtains and cared for people sickened by smoke.  Alice Horne and Cornelius Lund advocated for city ordinances to reduce pollution.

“They made educational pamphlets and handed them out across the city so that people had the best information about how to run their stoves and produce less smoke,” Mitchell said.

There’s a lot to explore that provides a historical perspective on where we are now.

KSL 5 TV Live

Utah's Air Quality

An electric UTA bus charges in Salt Lake City, Utah. (KSL TV)...

Ken Fall

EXHAUSTED: Electric transit buses in Utah and the hope for a carbon neutral future

Does the UTA plan for all-electric buses make for dramatic air pollution reductions along the Wasatch Front?

15 days ago

green mountains send up smoke to cover the sky...

Mike Anderson

New $850,000 grant to help Utah monitor wildfire smoke and protect students

We've all see it, the time in late summer and early fall when Utah skies become gray with wildfire smoke. Sometimes it's from other states, sometimes it's even from Canada.

15 days ago

Multiple bills in the Utah Legislature aim to target air quality and offer tax breaks for switching...

Lindsay Aerts

Here’s what the Utah Legislature is doing to address air quality

Multiple bills in the Utah Legislature aim to target air quality and offer tax breaks for switching to electric lawn equipment.

16 days ago

Jennifer Love...

Katija Stjepovic

Rebates make clean air upgrades cheaper for Utahns

It's no secret that Utahns are exhausted by our bad air quality but there are ways you can help reduce emissions from your home.

17 days ago

KSL TV investigated how other cities are managing their air quality. Pictured here is maintenance w...

Deanie Wimmer

Exhausted by bad air: Is smog-eating tech something Utah should consider?

What if Salt Lake could address our pollution problem with technology that “eats” the smog? Several U.S. cities and countries are doing just that with surfaces treated with materials that “neutralize” smog. Is it a solution Utah should consider?

18 days ago

LOGAN -- Cache County often captures some of the worst air in the country. That's due to it being s...

Mike Anderson

Cache County inversions capture high levels of ammonia pollution

Thanks to the geography and agriculture industry in Cache Valley, the area often has the highest levels of ammonia-based air pollution in the country.

2 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Exhibit: Concerns about Utah’s air quality go back to Brigham Young