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Today's word on journalism

Friday, September 1, 2006

"[F]ew things are as much a part of our lives as the news. With the advent of sophisticated mass communication, the news has become a sort
of instant historical record of the pace, progress, problems, and the hopes of society. On the other hand--and here's the puzzle -- the news provides, at best, a superficial and distorted image of society. . . . The puzzle, simply put, is this: How can anything so superficial be so central to our lives?"

--W. Lance Bennett, political science professor, 1988

Cache Valley continues to struggle with air quality problem

By Marilyn Shelton

May 2, 2006 | It's no secret to some that Cache Valley suffers from poor air quality during the winter months. The problem is thought to be caused by a variety of factors. One of them is the shape of the valley itself. The surrounding mountains give the valley a bowl shape which traps pollution inside during an inversion, a weather term for cold air being trapped at the earth's surface.

The pollution is caused by what comes out of the tailpipes of both cars and cows. The valley has an estimated 100,000 head of cattle which produce ammonia gases. The ammonia gases then combine with carbon monoxide from cars to make a toxic stew.

Last winter Cache Valley air quality was so poor that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) threatened to declare it a "non-attainment" area. That means that state and local governments would be required to draft a solution to the problem and have it approved by the EPA. They would then be required to follow that draft and immediately find a solution to the problem.

During the winter of 2004-2005 air pollution levels reached unhealthy levels 17 times. It reportedly had some of the worst air in the nation. But after this winter, is Cache Valley still in danger of being declared a non-attainment area?

Grant Koford, an environmental scientist at the Bear River Health Deparment, said that there were no days during this winter which exceded the EPA's health standards. Korford said that this is because the weather was warmer this year. When weather is warm, this means less inversions to trap pollution in the valley, therefore leading to healthier air.

But Koford said that although Logan city avoided being declared a non-attainment area this year, it doesn't mean that it will avoid being declared one in the future. The EPA regulates Cache Valley air on a three year rolling average.

"Right now our three years consist of 2004, 2005 and 2006. Winter 2004 was extremely high, 2005 was somewhat high and now 2006 has to be really low to counteract 2004 or we're going to exceed that average."

If that happens Logan will be declared a non-attainment area.

"The state of Utah writes a plan and says, this is what we are going to fix the problem and the EPA agrees to the plan or says we can't do that," Koford said.

He added that there are about 3 more "free days" for next year, the minimun amount of unhealthy air days allowable next year before the EPA would step in. Right now Cache County health officials including the Cache Valley Air Quality Task Force and the Bear River Health Department are taking measures to try to make sure that doesn't happen.

"The state's working on it, the University's working on it, and there are citizen groups working on it, even some Idaho state officials are working on it," Koford said about the problem.

Koford said that to try to solve the cattle problem, the cattle are being fed a different kind of feed, one containing more protein which will make for less amonia.

Another proposed plan would require citizens to pay 2 dollars extra when they go to register their cars in Cache Valley which Koford said would be used for research money, to research solutions to the problem and also public awareness.

Koford said a poll was taken which showed that only slightly more than half of Cache Valley citizens are even aware of the air quality program. Koford said that if citizens are aware of the problem they could do more to help.

"The big goal is to reduce vehicle mileage,that's the key to reducing pollution, particularly during inversions," Koford said. He suggests carpooling, walking or taking the LTD bus which is free of charge, during red days or unhealthy air days. To know the daily status of Cache Valley air quality you can visit the Bear River Health Department's website at http://www.brhd.org/air_quality.html.

Until then Utah and Idaho officials and some citizen groups will be working toward a solution to the problem. There is hope that the weather will be warm again this winter and there will be no more than the 3 "free days" of unhealthy air this winter. It is still unknown whether Cache Valley will eventually be required to draft the EPA's non-attainment plan or not.

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