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Think tank geared to solve pollution problems

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - Experts know the air is bad but finding solutions is the real problem.
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - A team of experts has formed a group targeting Utah’s bad air.

The Center for Air Quality, Health and Society in Utah sponsored by the University of Utah Health Sciences kicked off it’s mission during a retreat at Fort Douglas.

“It’s intended to bring together the academic brainpower here at the University of Utah to put some science behind our understanding of what’s contributing to the poor air quality and potential solutions,” says Vivian Lee, senior Vice-President for Health Affairs.

The group comes at a time where Utah’s smog-filled inversion is becoming quite common.

There have already been 22-days in which Utah's air exceeded EPA standards, making it one of the worst years ever. And Lee says outsiders are taking note.

"I tried to recruit faculty here to the University of Utah for my previous institution and I recruited two of the three and one of them refused to come citing air quality as one of the major reasons."

The air quality group is hoping to come up with long term solutions.

But while this brainpower knows the air is bad but taking action is another thing.

“There will be very strong arguments to improve air quality and my hope is we'll see better ways to make it happen,” says Dr. Robert Paine with the school’s Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. “But there are so many things that we are vague about. Air pollution is bad but we don't understand all the details we need.”

The bad air already has the attention of Utah's lawmakers. And legislation, if passed could be the first step in solving the problem.

"There's a pilot program to offer transit passes so people don't have to pay to use frontrunner or trax trains in the most polluted months,” says Jennifer Robinson, director of the Center for Public Policy and Administration.

According to tweets filed by the University of Utah Health Sciences, Arden Pope of BYU offered other insights about the problem.

“Our pollution is as bad as any place in the country when it’s bad,” says Pope in one tweet. “But it’s as good as any place in the country when it’s good.”

He also told the group that Utah’s air quality is moderate overall.

Another tweet coming from the conference listed Dr. Michelle Hofmann who talked about children and ambient air pollution.

She says air pollution has “lasting effects on respitory health for kids,” according to one tweet.

“It’s like living like canaries in a coal mine,” she says.

Hoffman says kids attending Salt Lake County schools are very close to the source. She says 81-percent of the county’s schools are by roadways. Another 7-percent are by freeways.
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