A coalition of community, conservation and public health groups has put the Environmental Protection Agency on notice to enforce air-quality standards in Utah or it will sue the agency.
The coalition, which includes the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Environmental Health, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Westside Coalition and SLC Air Protectors, says by not enforcing its own regulations, the EPA is failing to protect more than 1 million people from particulate pollution.
Jonny Vasic, director of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, says state and federal officials have repeatedly missed deadlines to clean up the air.
"Our 24-hour measurement has been in violation for years," he points out. "Especially in Salt Lake City, we've been in violation on-and-off for about 10 years.
"Our goal with this is to get them to enforce the law and submit a plan that will actually put us in attainment."
The EPA has previously determined that the Salt Lake City area has high levels of particulate-matter pollution from soot and smoke emanating from fossil fuels, industrial livestock operations and other sources.
Vasic says the Clean Air Act requires federal and state agencies to regulate the various sources of pollution, but that officials have not done their job.
The EPA could not be reached for comment because of the government shutdown.
Vasic says his group's research shows that there are no known safe levels of pollution.
"There's no amount of air pollution that's good," he stresses. "All air pollution is bad for all of us.
"It can lead to strokes. It can lead to heart attacks. There's just a laundry list of unhealthful diseases associated with that air."
Vasic says officials estimate that as many as 20,000 Utahns may have lost their lives because of poor air quality over the last decade.
"The outcome is to put a SIP, a state implementation plan, in place that will actually improve the air quality that will help clean the air and bring us to a place where we can all breathe healthy and safe," he states.
The groups issued a formal notice of intent last week to sue the EPA over poor air quality in Salt Lake and Davis counties along with portions of Weber, Box Elder and Tooele. It also includes portions of Pinal County in Arizona.
The notice means the parties have 60 days to work out the problems before the lawsuit goes forward.