Utah's inversion in 2019 could hold increased mercury levels

    In the midst of inversion in the Salt Lake Valley, cold fog is trapped by a thick layer of warm air. (Photo: KUTV files)

    (KUTV) — Breathing inversion in the Salt Lake Valley could be even more toxic in 2019 due to increased levels of mercury.

    Looking down on inversion in the Salt Lake Valley, a thick layer of warm air sits atop cold fog. (Photo: KUTV files)

    The Trump administration met on Friday to discuss rescinding an Obama-era regulation (the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards — or the MATS) credited with helping reduce toxic mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants. The administration argues the rule's benefits to human health and the environment may not be worth the cost of the regulation.

    The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a calculation that the restriction on mercury from coal plants produced only a few million dollars a year in measurable health benefits and did not meet the Clean Air Act's legal benchmark of “appropriate and necessary.”

    The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA on Thursday for not holding Utah and Arizona accountable for missing deadlines to submit plans to clean up air pollution.

    Overturning the MATS essentially allows an unrestricted amount of mercury into the environment from coal plants, which increases the already-toxic air quality due to inversion. According to The World Health Organization, 3.7 million people die every year from the effects of air pollution.

    Point sources such coal plants create 13% of Utah's air pollution in the wintertime. (Photo: Thom Carter, UCAIR)

    Revere Health provides several areas that are commonly associated with inversion and air pollution:

    • Asthma: Poor air quality can cause asthma or make symptoms worse.
    • COPD: This is a group of lung diseases that cause breathing problems.
    • Heart disease: Coronary artery disease, heart failure, cardiomyopathy and other heart conditions can be affected by air pollution.
    • Heart attacks: Poor air quality Increases the risk of heart attack over time.
    • Birth problems: Things like preterm birth, small birth size or weight, birth defects or even fetal or infant death are possible.

    Similar harmful health effects are consequences of mercury from coal plants, too—among them are brain damage, learning disabilities and other birth defects in children.

    Utah is home to five coal-fired power plants:

    1. Los Angeles, City of Municipal Intermountain
    2. Deseret Gen. & Tran. Coop.Bonanza
    3. PacifiCorpHuntington
    4. PacifiCorpHunter
    5. PacifiCorpCarbon

    Residents of Uintah, Emery, Millard, Carbon, and Salt Lake counties are advised to be more cautious while out in soup bowl of inversion if the Trump administration vetoes the MATS regulation.

    The overall conclusion comes from the Utah Clean Air Partnership's Executive Director Thom Carter: “The truth is, no matter what, we have to be doing our part every single day to mitigate the effects of an inversion.” This includes mobile phones, automobiles, and generational activity such as running your heater.

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