Protestors Cite Health, Family for Attending Clean Air Rally

An attendee to the "Clean Air, No Excuses" rally holds her sign in the crowd.
An attendee to the “Clean Air, No Excuses” rally holds her sign in the crowd.

(KCPW News) Bicycles, signs, and families. A wealth of those three things could be found all throughout the multitudes. Bicycles, because many in attendance wanted to minimize the environmental impact of the event. But as Aaron Kruger of Sugar House pointed out, riding a bike on bad air days isn’t always feasible. Occasionally, he has to borrow a respirator from the ceramics class he teaches in West Valley.

“It’s nasty. The other day I was digging the skate park out, and I had to use a respirator to make the taste away. I don’t know if it got the small particles,” Kruger said.

Many attention-seeking signs dotted the crowd, all lambasting Utah’s air quality in more or less unique ways. Perhaps none were as poetic as Owen’s and Charlie’s signs:

“There once was some smoggy brown air / For some reason, it didn’t seem fair / We called all the factories / To shut their smog hatcheries / Then they could show that they care.”

Owen said he wrote his pollution-themed limerick on Saturday morning before the rally. His brother Owen’s poem was a little more straightforward:

“I’m six years old / I need clean air.”

Which takes us to the third element: families. Matt Keating moved his family to Salt Lake from southern California two years ago. He said he didn’t know air quality was this big of a problem in Utah.

“We lived in northern California, we lived in southern California,” Keating said. “And even in southern California—I mean, the air here is so much worse than southern California.”

Keating said he might relocate his family again.

“I don’t want to move these kids around too much, but in the next few years, if it doesn’t get better, we might move,” he said. “Actually, if one of our kids actually develops asthma—granted, they can develop asthma for a number of reasons—but if they develop asthma, we’re out of here.”

Jeff Stowell already has asthma, a condition he attributes to the air in Utah. An Iron Man triathlete, he developed asthma after moving to Utah and training for his first Iron Man. Stowell said it wouldn’t be economical for him to move now, but he may consider moving after retiring.

“I love Utah. The mountain biking, the road biking, the skiing—cross-country, downhill, back country—it’s all wonderful,” Stowell said. “But, the air. You still got to breathe when you do all of those things.”

Of Course, Salt Lake Valley isn’t the only place in Utah afflicted by the inversion. Cache Valley in northern Utah sees air quality conditions equally as unhealthy. Jacqueline and Tony Lowry drove an hour and a half to attend Saturday’s rally. They’ve both been active in pushing for better air quality, and with good reason: a couple members of the family have experienced worsened respiratory problems.

“I have asthma. My son seems to have similar sensitivities. So there’s a lot of indoor time. But also we’re outdoor enthusiasts. We love to be outdoors. So it’s a really difficult situation,” Jacqueline said.

Jacqueline says her family wouldn’t have moved to Utah if they had known about the extent of the inversion problem, especially considering some of the ill-health Jacqueline has endured.

“When I first moved here seven years ago, I only had a very slight level of asthma, a very exercise-induced kind of thing that would only happen very stressful or high-active moments,” she said. “But through the years, it became just during the inversions. But now I have year-round asthma, and I have to use an inhaler. And I’m worried that it’s going to progress, and I’m worried for my children.”

Kent Burningham came to the rally wielding a large American flag. He’s lived in Utah for almost three decades, and he thinks part of the problem has been lack of leadership on this issue.

“We have a very trusting community here, and most of the people and the majority of this state really rely on their leaders to give them direction,” said Burningham. “Our leaders have not been very aggressive about individual health issues or other personal issues.”

Still, Burningham is hopeful that change could come about this year.

“There comes a time when people begin to communicate with each other laterally and make their decisions based on their experiences instead of waiting for information from above on what to do. And our community’s getting more tolerant of individual expression and diversity,” he said. “I think that this is going to roll.”

With thousands of concerned citizens, and perhaps many more safely at home, this may be a year of communicating “laterally.”

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