Opinion: As a biomedical graduate student, I dread staying in Utah. Environmental hazards are very dangerous.

Professionals from all over the nation are coming to Salt Lake City to train and work. We need to listen to their environmental concerns to keep them in our local economy.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Air quality worsens in the Salt Lake Valley on Tuesday, November 28, 2023.

Summer offers more than just pleasant weather and longer days. School is out and family and friends are making memories while enjoying our state’s natural beauty outside. Among these students are recent graduates, freshers and trainees, eager to make their mark in the workforce. These graduates must now decide where to begin the next chapter of their lives. Will they choose to stay and build their careers locally, or will they prioritize seeking opportunities outside of Utah?

As a biomedical doctor. candidate in the last years of my training, I have considered these questions deeply. Originally from Wisconsin, I was drawn to attend graduate school in Salt Lake City by the state’s abundant outdoor recreation opportunities and impressive growth in the biotech sector. However, due to increasing environmental quality concerns, I have seriously considered moving elsewhere after graduation.

From toxic dust storms to the harsh smog of the winter inversion, it’s well known that Salt Lake has the worst air quality in the country. Just last December, our capital was ranked 26th in the world for worst air quality. But the visible “haze” of air pollution is only the beginning. The health consequences of Utah’s polluted air are particularly alarming, putting young and longtime residents at risk for serious health complications, including asthma, cardiovascular disease and lung cancer. A recent study from Brigham Young University reports that Utah residents lose between 1.1 and 3.5 years of life due to poor air quality, with up to 23% of residents losing five years or more.

Acute exposure to air pollution has been shown to promote depression and mental illness, as well as increase the risk of suicide in Salt Lake County. Air pollution in Utah is also linked to an increase in health issues such as miscarriage and a higher prevalence of asthma. Surprisingly, emergency room visits in Utah can increase by as much as 40% on days with poor air quality.

However, poor air quality is not only a major health problem in Utah, but also a serious economic issue. A recent study estimates that air pollution costs Utah taxpayers an average of $1.9 billion annually through direct costs, such as health care costs, and indirect costs, such as lost tourism and reduced economic growth.

These studies become even more alarming when considering the recent movements being made in the state. This includes stories of carbon-heavy coal plants abandoning early shutdown plans while plans for cleaner nuclear power options have been scrapped. Further, while the EPA’s tightening of carbon emission standards appears to be a major victory for the state, our state’s governor recently made the controversial decision to sign a letter expressing opposition to updated compliance regulations with air quality, signaling opposition to clean air policy.

Given these serious health and economic implications, it is imperative that Utah policymakers prioritize addressing our unhealthy air quality. Instead of using energy to express opposition to new air quality regulations, our state leaders should work together, intensively and efficiently, to identify the best strategies to improve our polluted air. State leaders should invest in new policies, such as Air Quality Amendments HB279, sponsored by Rep. Clancy, which sought to mandate a 50% reduction in air pollutants by 2033 on the Wasatch Front, including harmful fine particles, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide. and nitric oxide. Unfortunately, this bill failed to pass the legislature.

Transportation is the largest source of air pollution in Utah. To combat vehicular polluters, our state should consider measures such as encouraging electric vehicles (EVs) and stricter idling laws. The electric vehicle market is now accessible to families, although costs remain a barrier. Utah could increase its EV incentives by modeling programs like Vermont’s, which offers up to $10,000 to low- and moderate-income residents for new EV purchases. Additionally, new legislation should require large multi-unit housing such as apartment complexes to offer EV charging for at least 50% of their parking spaces by 2030. Policymakers can partner with energy companies , like Rocky Mountain Power, to extend current EV charger rebates and time-of-use incentives for owners of these large multi-unit dwellings.

While EV incentives will reduce gas vehicle operations over the next decade, a transition period will still see many gas-powered vehicles on Utah’s roads, contributing to unnecessary tailpipe emissions. Strengthening unemployment reduction laws can call on citizens to help reduce idle time. Concerned citizens can report wrongdoing and receive a portion of the fine as a reward, increasing public oversight and generating funds that can be reinvested in EV incentive projects.

A failure to invest in cleaner air is a failure to invest in the health of Utahns, a failure to invest in our future economy, and a failure to prioritize keeping Utah’s talent local. State leaders must work to create a brighter and cleaner future for our state.

Lorenzo Smith is a PhD student studying oncology at the University of Utah.

Lorenzo Smith is a PhD student studying oncology at the University of Utah. Using his scientific critical thinking skills, Lorenzo has become very interested in advocating for the best policy initiatives for our state.

The Salt Lake Tribune is committed to creating a space where Utahns can share ideas, perspectives and solutions that move our state forward. We rely on your knowledge to do this. Find out how to share your opinion hereand email us at voices@sltrib.com.

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