Environmental justice report shows air quality disparities on Salt Lake City’s west side

Jul 26, 2023, 2:32 PM

The Wasatch Front pollution...

This photo shows what an "unhealthy for sensitive groups" air quality day looks like along the Wasatch Front on December 3,2019. (KSL TV)


SALT LAKE CITY — Pollution has a “disproportionate” impact on several neighborhoods on Salt Lake City’s west side, according to a preliminary report issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Due to their proximity to I-15, the Salt Lake City International Airport, and major railways, the neighborhoods of Westpointe, Jordan Meadows, Poplar Grove, Glendale, Fairpark and Rose Park have greater pollution and health risks that accompany it compared to the rest of the state.

“We totally understand there’s air quality issues that the west side communities are facing are vexing, impactful and long-standing,” said KC Becker, regional administrator who oversees Utah for the EPA.

Becker spoke at a community gathering Tuesday night alongside Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, who requested the initial study. Bianca Boggs, an associate at Skeo Solutions who contracted on the study, described it as a literature review of existing data used to establish a baseline for monitoring pollution in the area going forward.

“We know that our air quality here doesn’t impact every part of the city or the county, and certainly the state, equally,” Mendenhall said.

Salt Lake County has failed to meet regulatory standards for several pollutants, including eight-hour ozone, particulate matter 2.5 and sulfur dioxide, according to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

And those in west side neighborhoods face higher asthma burdens, higher risks of cancer and lower life expectancies compared to residents on the east side of the city.

Much of the pollution comes from manufacturing, vehicle use and construction, as well as natural sources like dust from the Great Salt Lake, wildfire smoke and winter inversion.

The report comes amid concerns that the Utah Inland Port will increase pollution in the area. Boggs said the Utah Department of Transportation’s plan to widen I-15 will conform with the state’s implementation plan to bring certain types of pollution in line with regulatory standards.

UDOT is currently working on an environmental impact statement that it plans to release this fall.

Several community members seemed concerned that the EPA report doesn’t include projections for the inland port’s impact, and criticized the agency for not doing more to protect air quality on the west side.

But the federal Clean Air Act gives states the primary authority to enforce clean air standards, and the EPA can only do so much by issuing grants, Becker said.

She said the agency can provide “carrots,” but the state can use “sticks.”

Earlier in the day, officials at the EPA announced they are close to providing Salt Lake and Tooele counties with “transformative” grant money to help reduce pollution and combat climate issues.

In response to questions about the EPA’s ability to regulate pollution in the state, Becker said the study was meant to provide a baseline to help inform officials with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality about the impact to the communities, and reiterated that the agency can’t control everything the state does.

Mendenhall, a Democrat, said she wishes the Utah Legislature wasn’t dominated by Republicans, and said anger at the EPA for its perceived lack of action over pollution is misguided.

Utah House Minority Leader Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, also encouraged west side residents to petition their lawmakers for action and express their concerns in legislative meetings.

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Environmental justice report shows air quality disparities on Salt Lake City’s west side