Smoggy Day Recess?

January 24th, 2015

Op-ed in the Deseret News
By Ingrid Griffee

This story starts at my daughter’s school. As they should, the school last week was asking children with asthma to stay indoors, and they kindly asked if other children wished to voluntarily stay in, either for their own health or to keep the others company. With so many other forces a mom has to battle (bullying, stranger-danger, drugs, etc.), we now also worry over the very air the kids breathe during something as simple as recess. Remember “rainy day” recess? We now have “smoggy day” recess.

So last week my 10-year-old asked me to buy a face mask for her to wear so she could play outside. I watched in dismay as another layer of innocence fell away from her. She could see the smog hanging in the air, and even though she doesn’t understand the pathology behind air pollution, she knows that you shouldn’t be able to see the air you breathe. She also noted that it smelled especially bad outside.

The message Utah kids receive is clear: The very air around you is toxic, and some of the adults running the show find it simpler and less expensive to keep you indoors at recess, rather than clean the air.

The message Utah kids receive is clear: The very air around you is toxic, and some of the adults running the show find it simpler and less expensive to keep you indoors at recess, rather than clean the air.

Take, for example, the fact that current Utah law prohibits us from creating any clean air regulations stricter than federal EPA regulations. Even though the EPA never tested any of the regulations in our valley, we just have to accept whatever they pass on and hope it works for us. Now, to be fair, when the Legislature put this bit of code into our law, they gave us an out. If we can show that federal regulations are not adequate to protect our health, we can make better regulations. The burden of proof is on our families to demonstrate inadequacy. How do we show that something is inadequate to protect our health? We all get sick, and then we argue over which specific regulation was inadequate. This approach is unwise, dangerous and costly.

Public health policy should never place the burden of proof on the people. Do we all have to get ill drinking dirty water before we decide to treat it for diseases? What if your doctor said, “Take this medicine. It’s unclear if it will help or hurt you, we haven’t tested it on people in your situation. I guess if you get sicker, then we’ll know.” Of course you wouldn’t take it. You expect that medicines and treatments are vigorously tested under different circumstances by impartial scientific institutions, and that doctors use the best science to extrapolate how to use a medicine. Regulations are in place to protect us, not make us guinea pigs.

This legislative session, clean air advocates and citizens mean to change this dangerous bit of Utah law, thereby returning to the local population the power to craft air quality regulations specific to the needs of our region. Any potential new air quality regulations would still go through the same robust public comment period and through the same air quality board. New ideas would still have to be backed by science, but we would have the freedom to apply science from our own region, not just science done by the EPA as a one-size fits all regulation.

On Jan. 31, my daughter and I will be at the state Capitol at noon to rally with thousands of others. We will demonstrate to the Legislature that clean air is important — because I’m a mom and no child should ever have to miss playing jump rope because of a “smoggy day” recess.

On Jan. 31, my daughter and I will be at the state Capitol at noon to rally with thousands of others. We will demonstrate to the Legislature that clean air is important — because I’m a mom and no child should ever have to miss playing jump rope because of a “smoggy day” recess.

Ingrid Griffee is the executive director of Utah Moms for Clean Air. She and her husband are raising four kids in Salt Lake City.


January 16th, 2015

We, the people of Utah, deserve clean air. We are willing to do our part, now the Legislature and big industry need to do theirs. No excuses!

Last year, nearly 5,000 people gathered on the step of the Utah State Capitol and made history with Utah’s largest clean air rally and maybe the nation’s. Can we do it again? Yes, we can!

WHEN: Saturday, January 31, 12 Noon to 1 PM
WHERE: Utah Capitol Steps
HOW: Bike, walk, carpool, roller skate or take the free bus
WHY: Because breathing clean air is a birthright

RSVP via Facebook and spread the word.

Take Control of Your Indoor Air

January 16th, 2015

As we work on outdoor air quality in Utah, let us not forget the air inside our homes, schools and workplaces. We have lots of control over the toxins we decide to add or not add into this environment. Here is a overview of things to pay attention to, compliments of One Green Planet:

Volatile Organic Compounds are one of the most prevalent groups of chemicals used as ingredients in household products in homes today. These chemicals evaporate at room temperature and are emitted into the air as gases. Many chemicals that fall under this category pose a threat to human health.

Exposure to low levels of VOCs for short periods of time can lead to an increase in respiratory problems, nausea, dizziness, headaches and in some cases cause allergic reactions. Long term or chronic exposure to volatile organic compounds can lead to an increased risk of kidney damage, liver damage and cancer. Two of the known volatile organic compounds, benzene and formaldehyde, are considered human carcinogens. Despite the dangers, Benzene is considered one of the top twenty most widely used chemicals in the United States.

It’s important to mention that those the elderly or young and those with compromised immune systems are the most at risk from this chemicals. Studies show that people who suffer from asthma can have increased symptoms, even when exposed to low-levels of VOCs.

Homes today are built to be efficient, ultimately leaving the pollutants with no escape. Without proper ventilation while using products containing VOCs the air quality outside of the home can wind up superior to the air quality inside. In fact, the EPA has performed studies that show households with low levels of VOCs indoors can still be two to five times higher than the VOCs outside.

VOCs show up as the main ingredient in a wide variety of every day products, making it imperative to be mindful and always check the list of ingredients of whatever you may be purchasing.

Some of the most common volatile organic compounds found in household products are: Acetone, Benzene, Ethylene glycol, Formaldehyde, Methylene chloride, Perchloroethylene, Toluene, Xylene and 1,3-butadiene.

So what kind of household products should you be on the look out for that might contain these chemicals? Visit the OneGreenPlanet website for a detailed list.

Air Pollution = Headache?

January 9th, 2015

Before moving to Utah nine years ago I never had a headache that would qualify as a migraine. Now I have a handful of these head-splitting beasts every year. They get so bad that I sometimes actually vomit and am out of commission sometimes for days.

Of course, I would love to avoid these episodes, but I cannot pinpoint exactly what causes them. I do have a few suspicions and one of them is dirty air. Many of my worst headaches do seem to correspond with high pollution days and when I mentioned this, someone sent me this article from Reuters Health:

Have a headache and don’t know why? It could be high levels of air pollution.

A study from the densely populated Santiago Province of Chile — a region surrounded by the Coastal and Andes mountains and, therefore, geographically prone to air pollution – found increased hospital admissions for migraines and other headaches on days of elevated air pollution readings.

Further investigations are needed to confirm the consistency of these findings in different regions, Dr. Sabit Cakmak, with Health Canada in Ottawa, Ontario, and co-investigators say.

In the study, reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology, Cakmak’s team assessed air pollution levels taken at 7 monitoring stations between 2001 and 2005. The stations measured for ozone and air pollutants such as nitrogen and sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and tiny, floating particles known as particulate matter associated with the combustion of gasoline, natural gas, and other fossil fuels.

During the same period, the investigators collected information on the number of hospitalizations for migraine headache, as well as tension, cluster, or other types of headache.

When the investigators pooled the air pollution data from all regions they found, air pollution was a risk factor for all types of headache. This remained true in all pollutant-headache combinations analyzed.

These associations did not significantly change in analyses that accounted for the influence of age, gender, or season, Cakmak noted.

Based on their findings, Cakmak and colleagues say the estimates of the burden of illness and costs associated with poor air quality should include illness associated with headache.

With this information, I think it is time to start a migraine journal which also notes the corresponding trends in our local air quality. It will be interesting to see what anecdotal data I come up with, but I highly suspect one of the primary culprits will indeed be Utah’s toxic air.

If you too suffer from erratic migraines and live in Utah or another high pollution area, please consider a migraine-air quality journal and sharing the results with us at supermoms@utahmomsforclean dot org.

Utah Dirty Air Band-Aids: Masks & Home Air Purifiers

November 22nd, 2014

Utah Moms for Clean Air is working diligently to create real change and clean air for Utah – but in the meantime we need to protect our families and ourselves from our chronic dirty air. Thus, we provide this list of masks and home air filtration products as temporary fixes to a problem that must be solved in the long-term.

So get a mask or two, upgrade your indoor filters and then join us at the State Capitol for the 2015 Legislative Session.

Feel free to also send this list of masks to Governor Herbert, his environmental advisor, Alan Matheson (, Amanda Smith (Director of DEQ: and your legislators, asking them which ones they recommend! At the very least, your question will make them think twice about the direction Utah is going.


The highest protection level will be found in masks that are rated N95 and N99. These numbers describe the filtration level of the most harmful particulate matter (fine particles described by the designation PM 2.5).

N95 therefore indicates a filtration of 95% of such air pollutants, N99, 99%. The most common and available masks across all mask manufacturers is N95. There are many masks on the market in the $20-$30 range which will protect both children and adults from Utah’s air pollution. All masks are available for sale directly from the manufacturers websites, locally at the below mentioned stores.

Recommended N95 (or higher) Masks for Adults

RZ Mask: comfortable masks made of neoprene with carbon air filtration. Particularly suitable for athletes while running or cycling.

The RZ mask is available locally at:
Salt Lake Running Company, 700 East, 2454 South, Salt Lake City, UT. (801) 484-9144

Wasatch Touring Company 702 East, 100 South Salt Lake City, UT. (801) 359-9361

Vogmask: Offers a wide selection of masks which are comfortable and come in many attractive designs. They are suitable for adults and would also be comfortable for those with sensitive skin.

MOM TIP: Vogmask is a Salt Lake City-owned company!

Respro: Carries a wide variety of masks for athletic use as well as everyday air pollution protection.

3M: Produces a wide variety of disposable N95 masks – an affordable option for those with asthma or other lung issues that need year-round support.

Recommended Masks (rated N95 or higher) for Infants, Children and Adolescents

Vogmask: Provides the widest age range protection in four age brackets – infants (0-2yrs), young children (3-7yrs), older children (8-12) and teenagers (13yrs old and up)

3M: The 1860s model disposable mask will fit elementary age children, middle schoolers and younger teenagers.

RZ Mask: Sells a “youth” version designed for those weighing 120lbs or under.

MOM TIP: Double vented masks help reduce the ‘warmth’ of your exhalation.


There are many products available to help create a cleaner indoor air environment. These range from small portable room air purifiers which filter the air in individual rooms of a home to whole-house air purification systems.

Air Purifiers for Individual Rooms

Three consistently top rated room purifiers are those made by IQ Air (, Blue Air ( and the Rabbit Air ( They are also at the top of the price range – from approximately $300 – $1100. These are available for sale also on

MOM TIP: If you buy a medical grade air filter, you can deduct the cost from your taxes as a medical device.

Whole House Air Purification Systems

Whole house air purification systems can be installed in your home by local companies including:

Main Street Heating and Cooling

Welch Heating and Air

MOM TIP: Remember to frequently change the filters in your furnace and central air systems.

**This list is a work in progress so please share your info tips and recommendations with us. Visit us on Facebook to join the discussion.**

Breast Cancer and Air Pollution: Are they Linked? Maybe.

November 18th, 2014

Air pollution from motor vehicle traffic may put women at higher risk for breast cancer, Canadian researchers recently reported.
Researchers at Montreal’s Research Institute of McGill University Health Centre, McGill University and Universite de Montreal found a link between post-menopausal breast cancer and exposure to nitrogen dioxide — a “marker” for traffic-related air pollution.

“Another way of saying this is that women living in the areas with the highest levels of pollution were almost twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those living in the least polluted areas,” study co-author Dr. Mark Goldberg of the Research Institute said in a statement.

The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, found the risk of breast cancer increased by about 25 percent with every increase of nitrogen dioxide of 5 parts per billion. “Another way of saying this is that women living in the areas with the highest levels of pollution were almost twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those living in the least polluted areas,” study co-author Dr. Mark Goldberg of the Research Institute said in a statement.

Goldberg and colleagues had created two maps showing levels of nitrogen dioxide — a by-product of vehicular traffic — in different parts of Montreal and then they charted the home addresses of women diagnosed with breast cancer in a 1996-97 study onto the air pollution maps. The data showed that the incidence of breast cancer was clearly higher in areas with higher levels of air pollution.

The next step would be to dig deeper into the data, acquire more data and find out if this is coincidence, some other factor or a causal relationship worth doing something about.

California Pay-As-You-Drive Tax

October 17th, 2014

Utah Moms for Clean Air proposed a similar tax for Utah drivers – but we called it an AIRSHED USER FEE – the more you use it, the more you pay and visa versa. This is basic economics – if X is free, it will be used more than if people must pay to use X. The best way to fairly and quickly curtail pollution is to charge for it`s production. Our airshed suffers year after year because pollution is spewed freely – literally and metaphorically. Below is more info about the pay-as-you-drive California proposal as reported by Justin Hyde.

California Pay-As-You-Drive Tax

It won’t happen immediately, or even within the next year, but not too far into the future you might pay a tax for every mile you drive — thanks to California.

Three weeks ago, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the first test of mileage-based road taxes in the Golden State. The bill, which passed the state legislature with the backing of transit agencies, environmental groups and most major automakers, creates a 15-person panel to oversee a pilot of pay-by-the-mile taxation by 2018.

The move makes California the largest state to explore how modern technology might replace the dwindling money from gasoline taxes used to build and maintain roads, thanks to ever-more efficient vehicles and less driving overall. Congress has been forced to fill the gap at the federal level with billions of dollars in temporary funding; in California, where residents pay 48.5 cents on the gallon in state gasoline taxes worth more than $3 billion a year, the state has borrowed from those revenues in recent years to cover shortfalls elsewhere.

Of the other states which have explored such systems, Oregon stands as the most advanced, with its plan to offer a voluntary pay-as-you-drive tax setup next year offering 5,000 drivers the chance to pay 1.5 cents for every mile they travel in the state. The Oregon system uses a pair of devices — one in vehicles, and one in special fuel pumps — that used GPS to track miles driven, then gave the appropriate credit or surcharge at the pump itself. (Oregon also found that drivers in a test program paid 28 percent more than they would have using fuel taxes alone.)

But the backers of Oregon’s mileage tax system say the technology could be far less complicated, and adoption far quicker, thanks to services like Apple’s iPay and in-car Internet setups, such as General Motors OnStar. State Farm already has a pay-as-you-drive discount for its customers with newer Ford vehicles that use Ford’s Sync to automatically keep track of how far they’ve traveled. As the Oregon officials imagine it:

One envisions a time when all new cars will come equipped with mileage reporting capability. New car buyers will decide during the registration process whether to activate the mileage reporting capability already installed into the car or add an external reporting device. They will also choose a provider for account management or default to government managed account. Motorists will then drive and periodically receive a bill by mail or email—their choice—that may be bundled with other value added services… Motorists may check the bill details and pay online or by mail or authorize automatic payment from their smartphone, tablet device or the connected vehicle console in the dashboard of their car. Giving motorists the ability to choose their mileage reporting and bill payment preferences will make mileage reporting and per-mile charge payment simple and comfortable— as each motorist defines it.
If you think this sounds like another way for government to invade personal privacy, you’re not alone: the American Civil Liberties Union has expressed concerns about unapproved tracking, and privacy was the top concern of those who took part in Oregon’s trial. The California law requires the test panel to address privacy worries, but also says the system must take into account “public and private agency access, including law enforcement,” of any data it collects.

Movements may be a more personal form of data than even name and address; where you live is a public record, but tracking someone’s daily routine can reveal far more private information. Yet there are already many ways businesses can do so; every iPhone running the latest iOS 8 update has the ability to send location data to advertisers or remember a user’s frequent locations, and license-plate scanning firms already have a billion plates on record.

Chances are, given the technology on hand and the money at stake, California will devise a system similar to Oregon’s that can satisfy some privacy complaints (perhaps by tracking odometers only) but is also easily adoptable by motorists. With 17 percent of all U.S. new-car sales in the Golden State, and a need for road repair mimicked in most other states, it’s entirely likely that when it comes to taxing by the mile the old saw is true: As goes California, so goes the nation.

Stericycle Medical Waste: Piling It Higher and Deeper

September 18th, 2014

Its a blue sky day in North Salt Lake today, but things are only getting dirtier and darker at Stericycle.

Excellent job, EnviroNews for scooping that powerful interview.

The Salt Lake Tribune ran an article today discussing the interview and allegations of a former Stericycle employee:

State regulators are investigating a medical waste incinerator after an anonymous former employee charged that it burned so much waste and such toxic materials in recent years that it violated state law.

Stericycle, which operates the North Salt Lake facility, also is looking into the claims after an online video appeared on the website EnviroNews, said Jennifer Koenig, vice president of corporate communications. But the company’s procedures forbid such violations, so it’s unlikely they occured, Koenig said Wednesday.

Residents of the Foxboro subdivision in North Salt Lake and other clean-air advocates hold signs expressing their feelings about Stericycle’s medical waste incinerator during a protest at the state Capitol in September. They wanted the incinerator to be shut down.

A new Utah Department of Health report examines the potential health impacts of the Stericycle medical-waste incinerator in North Salt Lake. While rates of some cancers are elevated in nearby residents, those patterns cannot be tied to any specific environmental exposure, the department said.

The primary incinerator at Stericycle can be seen above a piece of machinery used to sterilize biohazard containers. The medical-waste handler wants to move its controversial incinerator out of a North Salt Lake neighborhood and it has secured remote state land in western Tooele County for that purpose. Activists are denouncing the state’s role in the deal.

Communities for Clean Air staged a news conference Wednesday outside Gov. Gary Herbert’s Capitol Hill suite demanding the governor shut the plant down with an executive order.

No one brought the former employee’s claims to the Department of Environmental Quality to investigate and document, said spokeswoman Donna Kemp Spangler. But she said the department is looking into the allegations anyway.

In a videotaped interview, parts of which are included in a documentary titled “The Devil’s Work,” a man wearing a bandana and sunglasses over his face says he is a former worker at the medical incinerator and alleges that supervisors told him and other employees to forgo measuring the weight and radioactivity of much of the waste coming into the plant, especially types believed to be radioactive.

Not measuring the waste items would violate Stericycle’s state permits.

The company is required to log how much infectious waste it processes and cannot process radioactive waste, according to its permit, Koenig said. However, some materials it burns contain traces of radioactivity, and the facility uses machines to measure those levels.

The former worker claimed employees ignore those rules and a host of others. He declined to be named or interviewed, citing fears for his former co-workers still at Stericycle.

It’s the latest flashpoint for the much-debated incinerator. Advocates at the Capitol Wednesday spoke against the operation and said medical waste should be shredded and sent to the landfill, not burned.

To read the entire article click here.

The interview with the former Stericycle employee can be seen at EnviroNews

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