Pardon our dust: St. George strives to maintain healthy air quality

A hydrant provides water to a construction site near Desert Hills High School, St. George, Utah, Nov. 3, 2017 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Some mornings, St. George’s air quality may appear a bit hazy, but city officials say ongoing efforts to minimize airborne dust are working.

“Overall, we have great air quality,” St. George City Engineer Jay Sandberg said. “The city takes air quality very seriously.”

Construction equipment near Little Valley, St. George, Utah, Nov. 2, 2017 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

In fact, St. George City requires an air quality permit on any construction activity occurring on an acre or more of land. Failure to comply with the permit requirements or to respond promptly to reported violations can result in penalties and fines, but city officials say most concerns are resolved with a simple verbal reminder.

“It very seldom gets beyond a verbal warning,” Sandberg said. “They know we’re monitoring them. They’re usually very compliant.”

Sandberg said the city usually receives “about three or four” air quality complaints per week, which he and other city staff follow up on, usually with a phone call or an in-person visit to the site of the reported violation.

“The overarching requirement is that they control dust,” he said.

In most cases, dust levels can be mitigated by applying water to dirt before, during or after it is being disturbed. This is usually done by spraying down the ground using water trucks, hydrants or hoses.

Construction equipment near Little Valley, St. George, Utah, Nov. 2, 2017 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

Currently, there are more than 30 major construction projects occurring in the St. George area, including stores, churches, school buildings and streets. Add to that the many homes currently under construction, including multiple projects that involve entire subdivisions being built at once.

While all of the projects are individually in compliance with air quality guidelines, the cumulative effect can sometimes be visibly noticeable, Sandberg said.

“There’s a combination of a lot of different projects going on,” he said, adding there are a number of other contributing factors that can affect air quality, including windy weather, wildfires in the region, local mining operations and even people using off-road recreational vehicles.

St. George City keeps track of its own air quality using two mobile monitoring stations that measure the presence of particulate matter in the air.

“We move them periodically to areas where there is more construction occurring,” St. George Mayor Jon Pike said, adding, “We also meet with the state of Utah Air Quality officials at least annually so they can tell us how we’re doing with smaller particulates.”  

A city-led air quality task force committee also meets monthly.

A hydrant provides water to a construction site near Desert Hills High School, St. George, Utah, Nov. 3, 2017 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

In addition to particulates such as dust and smoke, the highly sensitive monitors also are able to detect the presence of other pollutants, including ozone, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide. Factors such as humidity, temperature and wind speed are also measured.

A similar monitoring station located in Hurricane sends continuous data for Washington County to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s air quality website. The aggregated data can then be viewed on various maps and charts, and compared with that of other areas around the state.

The county’s pollution index charts show it to be consistently in the “green,” or within acceptable levels lately.

“I think because we are pro-active, our air quality is better than it would be if we didn’t have our program,” Sandberg said, noting that the city’s air quality requirements are more stringent than the state’s.

Those with questions or concerns about local air quality may call St. George City at 435-627-4000.

Resources

  • St. George City’s Air Quality website, including resources, forms and applications.
  • Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Monitoring Program website.
  • Nationwide Air Quality Index (AQI), forecasts and data at airnow.gov.

Email: jrichards@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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3 Comments

  • Caveat_Emptor November 4, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    As a transplant with prior experience of living along the Wasatch Front and Back, Washington County has significantly better air quality. The Wasatch Back suffers in the winter months due to wood burning homeowners dumping huge volumes of particulate into the air. Everyone knows the problems along the Wasatch Front.
    Washington County seems to suffer periodic smoke particulate when farmers burn their weeds, but more importantly are the chronic emissions from gravel/sand excavation/stockpiling, and the transportation of these materials along our highways.
    We live at the edge of a desert, and water is a scarce resource, but the dust nuisance caused by these activities does have a negative health impact, especially among the younger kids and the elderly.

  • hiker75 November 4, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    Where can I get St George air quality results? AirNow.com is great for telling you how clean or polluted your outdoor air is. There are several northern Utah towns that monitor and report results that can be found on that website. Why not St George or other locations in Washington County?

  • Sapphire November 5, 2017 at 9:43 am

    I have only seen a clear sky in this area a few times the past 3 years. It is always hazy. We have ruined our beautiful area.

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