Toxic Air and Mercury Contaminated Fish in Utah
As our state legislature prepares for its 2012 session, sate residents keep getting more and more environmental bad news. Most alarmingly, for a state that prides itself on its natural beauty, great skiing, wonderful hunting and plentiful fishing, we now have nineteen (19) state fisheries where it has been posted to not eat the fish because of mercury, arsenic, selenium, and PCB contamination. It simply boggles the mind to know that this contamination of our fresh water fisheries was occurring, while our state legislature spent time during last year’s state legislature session, adopting a state gun. Imagine, our state is suffering environmental collapse, and state leaders spend time and money passing legislation to adopt the Browning M1911 as a state symbol. As a state, a culture, and a people, I believe we have truly lost our way by allowing corporate pollution for profit. And on top of everything, our state has become a national laughing stock.
State of Utah Mercury Contamination
Our own State of Utah website, “Utah Fish Advisories” has published the following:
Fishing is a fun and relaxing outdoor activity that you can enjoy with your family and friends. Whether you are fishing to enjoy the outdoors, to spend time with family, or to catch dinner, you should always be safe.
However, some fish may not be safe to eat because they accumulate environmental contaminants from the water in which they live or from the food they eat. These environmental contaminants may accumulate to levels that may be harmful.
We know that some mercury contamination occurs naturally, but most comes from coal-fired power plants. The NRDC website informs us:
Coal is naturally contaminated with mercury, and when it is burned to generate electricity, mercury is released into the air through the smokestacks. The bulk of this mercury pollution could be eliminated with the installation of pollution-control devices. Similar devices have proved very successful on municipal incinerators, which were once a significant source of mercury pollution.
But here in Utah, we have no such pollution control devices on our coal-fired plants. Right now, mercury is being released daily to blow northward into the Wasatch Range from seven coal-fired power plants in our state, with one more just over the border with Arizona. There are two more proposed coal-fired plants slated for construction in southern Utah.
But more terrifying is a proposal, supported by Governor Herbert and state legislature Republicans, to side with the federal government to drastically expand coal strip mining at the Alton Coal Mine located just ten or so miles from Bryce Canyon in southern Utah. The sate of Utah, in a not so surprising move, approved the mine’s expansion into federal land last year, even though there was considerable public opposition. It was reported that Governor Herbert approved the expansion after receiving a $10,000 political campaign contribution from Alton Coal Development. He of course denied the story and stated that the contribution had nothing at all to do with his decision. Yet again, this feels like state officials allowing corporate exploitation of land in Utah for profit. Or perhaps he believes the commercials trying to advance the obscene idea of so-called “clean coal.”
Salt Lake City’s Poisonous Air
What is known in our valley as the inversion season, is usually worse during the winter season when cold air puts a lid on our valley, turning it into a cauldron of toxic air. Just last week I asked my sustainable urban planning class how many were experiencing runny noses, sore throats, coughing and other symptoms usually associated with the flue. Every single hand went up. This annual inversion, and the deadly air it forces residents to breathe, seems to be getting worse and more toxic each year. Yet, no one in state government seems to be doing anything about it. In fact, we have state senators who have as one of their main purposes to eliminate the EPA.
Take for example, the extreme right wing politician State Senator Margaret Dayton, about whom I have written before. She has published on her website that one of her main purposes in office is to gut environmental protection measures at all costs by eliminating the federal EPA. More locally, she is currently busy on a bill to revamp and shrink Utah’s environmental boards.
It is hard to believe that she is a Registered Nurse and is currently married to a physician. Her hypocrisy is truly unbelievable and online for all to view. On that website she writes that she wants to protect the unborn, care for senior citizens, and create legislation that will protect the traditional family. And yet she wants to put everyone’s health at risk by doing away with the EPA, an agency that tries to protect air and water quality across the United States.
Whether she does this out of pure stupidity or raw greed, we can never know, but the obvious hypocrisy on her website is disturbing. But we do know that she is dependent on the contributions of large corporate polluters in the state such as the Rio Tinto Corporation (owns Kennecott Copper), local oil companies and refineries, and Energy Solutions, Inc., a company in the west desert upwind from Salt Lake City, that calls itself, “a global leader in the safe recycling, processing and disposal of nuclear material.”
It is difficult for me to understand why sate officials would act in ways that endanger the lives of Utah residents. But as I’ve written before, it is in the nature of most politicians from governor to state legislator, to pay for political campaigns at the expense of human health and the environment. They simply go where the money tells them to go and do what the money tells them to do.