Air-Quality Discussion Focuses on Solutions

Apr 14, 2014

Jonathan Samet, chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, gave a keynote speech at the air pollution research retreat.
Jonathan Samet, chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, gave a keynote speech at the air pollution research retreat.
Credit Courtesy Photo / University of Southern California

   

Researchers, regulators and clean-air advocates gathered Monday to talk about Utah’s air pollution woes.

Jonathan Samet, chairman of Preventative Medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, focused his keynote speech on what else decision-makers need to know to build on America’s progress in tackling pollution.

“Research is important,” Samet said after his talk, “and we need it to guide the policymakers, so we can focus in on those sources that may be most critical.”

Samet pointed out that pollution regulation has come a long way, starting with the classic study of the Geneva Steel plant shutdown three decades ago in Utah County. His own team has studied how highway pollution affects autism and asthma in children.

Now researchers have better tools to understand the problem. They also know more about health impacts to the heart, the vascular system and unborn children. But Samet said action should follow understanding.

“Progress is going to be more challenging,” he said. “There are important sources to get at, but a lot of it is about us and the things we do. It’s about the cars we drive, how much we drive, whether we have fires in our fireplaces and other aspects of daily living.”

Samet said solutions will become more obvious the more researchers learn exactly what ingredients pollution contains. Some of that scientific work is already underway through the Utah Program for Air Quality, Health and Society, which held Monday’s show and tell.

Kerry Kelly is a chemical engineer and Associate Director of the air-quality program.

“It’s a really complicated problem we’re looking at,” she said. “And what we’re trying to do is not only address the sources of pollution but also to manage the health and economic impacts of it. So, you really need a broad array of people with a variety of talents and skills to address that.”

One of Kelly’s studies found smoke from a small number of wood stoves and fireplaces contributes a surprisingly big portion of Utah’s winter smog.