Utah swept the top five spots for dirtiest air in the nation on Tuesday, with Provo coming in fourth.

According to airnow.gov, which is the federal air quality monitoring site, Brigham City had the nation's filthiest air, followed by Logan, Ogden, Provo and Salt Lake City in fifth place.

In all five areas, the air quality was rated as "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups" defined as "Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is not likely to be affected." Air quality in Provo was forecast to get worse, with the federal monitoring site predicting that Provo would move into third place for the nation's dirtiest air on Wednesday.

Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality, did not return calls for comment on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Jim Westwater, chairman of the Utah Valley Earth Forum, blasted the state government and local representatives for their lack of interest in clean air.

"Unfortunately, we don't see our governor or state Legislature taking this health and economic threat seriously," he said. "This is too bad for us, our children, our families, our economy and our future."

Utah's deplorable air quality will cost Utah jobs and economic growth, he said.

"Provo and Utah Valley would benefit greatly if we got the reputation of being a healthy as well as beautiful place to live," Westwater said. "Conversely, it will hurt our economy and our health if we continue to have dirty, harmful, sickening air and as the word gets out about our dirty air to the rest of the nation and to prospective families and businesses thinking of relocating."

As proof that Utah's reputation for horrible air is already spreading, he pointed to a recent report on NBC Nightly News focusing on Utah's smog. The show quoted visitors to Utah who said they were shocked by the pollution.

"In one of the prettiest spots in the nation the problem is dirty air and lots of it," NBC news anchor Brian Williams said in the piece, which aired in late January. "They are used to it, this kind of thing happens every year. But this year it is the worst anyone can remember, making life outside the home downright dangerous."

NBC called Utah's air "toxic" and "choking."

"It's not the kind of story about Utah that will help our economy and the well-being of people and our otherwise beautiful state," Westwater said. "If we don't take action -- both citizen, business and governmental action -- matters will only get worse in these inversions when we are forced to inhale the harmful stuff we discharge into our air. Doctors tell us it's like we are all -- adults and children alike -- becoming smokers. This needs to change."

Provo and the Wasatch Front's lousy air won't go away anytime soon because no major effort is under way to change it, he said.

"It's past time for baby steps," he said. "We need substantial, serious, constructive actions that actually have or will have a significant beneficial impact on this very serious problem."

caleb-warnock
-- Caleb Warnock covers 11 cities in north Utah County and is also the Daily Herald's environmental reporter. You can find him on Facebook and at calebwarnock.blogspot.com.
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