Monday, 19 December 2011

The Air Is Getting Slippery

The air quality in Salt Lake City has been truly awful lately - much worse than the usual winter inversion that moseys through. At the same time, our legislators (who claim to be actual humans with actual lungs) relax regulations so that companies like Kennecott-Rio-Tinto can defile the air even more.

Actual, undoctored photo of SLC air
It was only January of 2010, almost two years ago exactly, that Salt Lake City experienced the legendary inversion that led to record-setting bad air - the very worst, in fact, in the United States of America ( I wrote about it at the time ).

It has gone beyond a little "kaff-kaff" at the nasty diesel fumes as the delivery truck rumbles past. This is chemical warfare, and the corporate god-kings whose greed is more lethal than hatred are waging it against us, quite literally at the cost of our very lives.

I received an e-mail from Cori Redstone, a fellow activist and friend of mine. She writes:

How bad is this air? As I type this the young child of a friend is in the ICU at Primary Children's fighting for her little life. She got a cold and it developed into full-blown respiratory arrest on Friday. I woke up in the middle of the night on Saturday unable to breathe and about went to the hospital myself. My son woke up this morning hacking, pale and has lost his voice. This air is killing us and the people we love. It is making us sick and costing lost work days and millions in health care costs.
It's not just anecdotal evidence we're dealing with here, either. From a report from ABC4:

Dr. Michelle Hofmann, a medical director at Primary Childrens in Riverton says the kind of particles we are breathing "are so small that they pass by normal systems and get down deeper into the lungs and even blood stream - and exert swelling in the lungs as well as in the blood stream."...I asked her if some people should lay off outdoor activities right now. Her response, "Absolutely."
It's surreal how the media - and Salt Lake City residents in general - treat our air pollution problem. The way the "red air days" and "haze" are reported, it's shrugged off like a nasty spell of rain, or a snowstorm.

But when rain or snow cause damage, it's an act of god, a cataclysm. This $h!t we breathe is insidious. It seeps into our streets, makes graveyards of our playgrounds and soccer fields, and hangs, motionless, silent, glowering unnaturally over the city.

The Salt Lake City skyline (no, really)

"Unnatural," yes, that's the other thing. This haze, smog, call it what you want - is NOT natural. Rain is natural, snow is natural (and god knows we could use more of both) - "haze," or smog if you want to be old-school about it, is emphatically not.

Today a coalition of environmentalists, concerned mothers (fear their wrath!) and the like filed suit against Kennecott for their psychotic disregard for air quality in Salt Lake County and elsewhere. Among other colorful tidbits revealed by the suit and accompanying press conference is the fact that Kennecott has flagrantly ignored federal limits on ore and waste rock production - limits intended to reduce particulate matter pollution - for at least the last five years.

So thanks again, Rio Tinto. Mazel tov, Kennecott. On "red air" days walking around outside - simply opening your door and entering the outside world for a while - is as hazardous as smoking cigarettes.

One would think that last would get the attention of the State Legislature - after all, they have shown great concern for public health when it comes to the hazards of cigarettes, haven't they?


  1. Excellent blog, Charles! I wish to add that we all bear some responsibility, roaring from mall to mall and idling at the drive-through window in our particulate-spewing autos. As much as I want Rio Tinto and other corporate folks to admit and correct their behavior, I wish for each of us to do the same.

  2. Brad - a very, very good point, and I agree completely.

  3. Stop driving around from mall to mall and walk and it will help but won't solve the problem. In the meantime, this is what EPA was doing as Rio Tinto moved ahead with construction of another hard rock mine with NO FEDERAL REGULATORY OVERSIGHT! Right next to Lake Superior.
    Get rid of the EPA. Join the Tea Party and anyone else and just eliminate them. It they were doing their job Salt Lake City wouldn't be choking to death right now! Watch what happens when they start to think they might get the boot!!!

  4. Hey there anonymous

    I'm not sure that I follow - because Kennecott has too much power, we should get rid of the EPA?

  5. It's a weird situation, because part of the problem is that we're driving so much, but if it's a hazard to go outside, and if it's already incredibly cold, walking won't do us much good, either. We're kind of in a rut, here.

    I wonder if it's high and time I whipped out the old dust mask from burning man and started wearing that around. Wonder if that'd help. I've been getting a little sick recently, and I keep getting frequent nausea spells. Everyone I know blames it on the air quality.

  6. Ryciera - I have no statistics (nor the oomph to go find statistics), but speaking purely anecdotally at least two or three people I know - in each case serious pedalheads (bicyclists) - wear air filter masks when they commute every day. I have seen the used filter from one mask - it was black and shiny in a greasy way and very, very unsettling.