Monday, September 15, 2014

Tier 3 Standards Will Help Clean Utah Air

By: Glade Sowards

Image Credit: U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency
There’s been a lot of buzz in Utah lately about Tier 3—shorthand for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Tier 3 Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards Program. When a geeky name like Tier 3 becomes a household word that’s used not only by us policy wonks but by Governor Herbert, mayors, legislators, radio talk-show hosts, and even soccer moms and dads—well, you know something’s up.

So what is Tier 3 anyway? Well, as its full name implies, Tier 3 is a new standard—the third in a series of such standards—that was finalized by EPA this past spring. The rule requires a partnership between vehicle manufacturers and petroleum refiners to produce cleaner cars and cleaner gasoline to help improve our air quality.

How much cleaner? When fully implemented following a phase-in period between 2017 and 2025, the average new passenger vehicle will emit 80 percent less nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than the average Tier 2 car emits today. In addition, every new passenger vehicle will see a 70 percent reduction in directly emitted particulate matter (PM) from Tier 2 standards.

To enable the emissions control system of these new vehicles to perform optimally, the new regulations also require an average reduction in gasoline sulfur levels of 67 percent from Tier 2 levels, from 30 parts per million (ppm) down to 10 ppm.

This reduction in the sulfur content of gasoline has the added benefit of reducing emissions from existing vehicles. This is because sulfur can “poison” a vehicle’s catalytic converter, making it less efficient at removing pollutants. The good news is that this effect is largely reversible. So after a few tanks worth of Tier 3 gasoline, even our existing vehicles will be cleaner—by as much as 14 percent, according to one EPA study.

All of this is good news for Utah’s air quality. In fact, an analysis conducted by EPA found that several counties in Utah are among those that benefit most in the nation from Tier 3 in reducing 24-hour PM2.5 concentrations, the root of our wintertime pollution problems (see figure below).

Image Credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Need to buy a new car, but can’t wait until Tier 3 models arrive in 2017? The good news is that many manufacturers have already begun producing models with comparable emissions to Tier 3 vehicles. If you’d like help in identifying the clean cars that are currently available, check out my previous blog post to learn more.

I am an environmental scientist in the Division of Air Quality Mobile Source and Transportation Section. I have a B.A. in Economics and Environmental Studies from Grinnell College and an M.S. in Forestry from Michigan Technological University. I worked at the Utah Energy Office for seven years before coming to work at DAQ. I enjoy playing music, road trips, camping, packrafting, and hiking with my girlfriend, Elizabeth, and our dog, Whiskey.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

DEQ Leads by Example through its Green Team

By: Donna Kemp Spangler

Members of DEQ's Green Team (left-right):
Karen Walner, Paul Harding, Bethany Hyatt, Rik Ombach,
Helge Gabert and Brianna Ariotti
You don’t have to look too hard to find a group of employees dedicated to improving the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s overall environmental impact. After all, “protecting and enhancing” Utah’s environment is at the core of what we do here at DEQ.

An organization’s Green Team by definition is a “group of motivated staff, representative of ALL organizational disciplines who voluntarily come together to educate, inspire and empower employees around sustainability.” Green Teams identify and implement specific solutions to help their organization operate in a more environmentally sustainable fashion.

DEQ’s Green Team is no exception. Its success comes from unwavering support from the topExecutive Director Amanda Smith. Members represent each of the six Divisions with the guiding values of creating a culture within DEQ that promotes best business practices throughout our campus at the Multi Agency State Office Building, our community and our environment.

Performance Bike's presentation of on-the-go bike repair
for one of DEQ's Bike Month events
The Green Team is headed by Rik Ombach, an air quality compliance officer and bicycle enthusiast who, along with members Patrick Sheehan of Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste and Karen Wallner of Division of Environmental Response and Remediation, organized a Bike Month in May. The Green Team invited representatives from Performance Bike and the non-profit Bicycle Collective to hold brown bag discussions about bicycle commuting and repair, and the myriad of gear and hardware choices available. And—to the delight of DEQ’s bike commuters—a bike repair station will soon be added to our campus.

Beyond the walls of DEQ’s building, Green Team member Helge Gabert, a scientist with the Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste, enjoys organizing community cleanups as a way to connect with the community at large.

Newcomers to the group, Bethany Hyatt, a communications specialist, and Brianna Ariotti of the Division of Water Quality, say they find it inspiring to see the big benefits of all the little things done every day through agency-wide recycling, energy efficient practices and the long line of people who walk to and from work via a nearby TRAX stop.

Consider these benefits:
  • DEQ recycled more than 23,153 pounds of material during 2012, the last available year it was reported.
  • The average electricity consumption during 2012 at DEQ’s building was 0.72 kilowatt hours per square foot, which is 50 percent lower than the national average for an office building.
  • The average natural gas consumption for 2012 was 0.0016 dekatherms per square foot, which is 41 percent lower than the national average for an office building.
  • The average water consumption for 2012 was 0.21 cubic feet per square foot, which is 73 percent lower than the national average for an office building.

The Green Team encouraged more than 100 DEQ
employees to participate in the annual
Clear the Air Challenge logging a combined total of nearly
90,000 alternative miles (e.g., riding transit, carpooling) 
Other members of the Green Team include David Hansen of Division of Drinking Water, Diane Hernandez, who takes her responsibilities as building manager seriously when it comes to implementing best business practices at DEQ and Robert Ford, manager of the Air, Toxics, Lead and Asbestos section of Division of Air Quality, who was one of the top participants in this year’s Clear the Air Challenge.

Veteran Paul Harding, who assists businesses with sustainability practices, says being part of the Green Team is a way to practice what he preaches, with a hope that DEQ could serve as a model for all Utah state agencies.

I challenge other state agencies in Utah to form Green Teams. For those who serve on a Green Team, share with us your ideas on best business practices.

I am the Communications Director for DEQ and write a monthly blog post. You can read my previous blog posts here at


Monday, September 8, 2014

Home Improvement: The DOs and DON’Ts of Mercury Spills

By: Neil Taylor

Editor's Note: This is the third of a series of posts—during the month of September—focused on simple home improvement tips to help improve your quality of life and the environment.

It’s 2 a.m. and I’m sound asleep in my warm, comfy bed. Suddenly my cell phone rings. I obligingly answer it, “Department of Environmental Quality” (as I am the person on call tonight). This is the occasional life of a DEQ ‘duty officer.’

I have been a DEQ duty officer for 30 years. A duty officer is responsible for receiving the 24-hour notice of environmental emergencies from businesses, local health departments, or the general public who contact the Utah Division of Environmental Response and Remediation’s pollution hotline. I take the information and help ensure the appropriate agencies are alerted involved. The range of events makes the job interesting—anything from a 25-gallon spill of diesel fuel to a large-scale event like a tank derailment, chemical fire or pipeline rupture. The one type of event I have seen that can most easily impact a homeowner is a mercury spill.

Elemental mercury is used in a variety of devices around us, such as older thermometers, barometers, electrical switches, blood pressure monitors and Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs. Breakage of these devices can result in release of the mercury inside. Proper cleanup is essential to contain the contamination.

Here’s what I tell people NOT to do:
  • DO NOT vacuum where there might be mercury! Vacuuming breaks up the mercury into countless tiny beads that are then thrown everywhere. I have seen vacuums turn a tiny spill of mercury that may cost a few dollars to clean up, into house-wide contamination that costs thousands of dollars to clean up with the loss of furniture, clothing and personal items. What a tragedy.
  • DO NOT try and sweep the spill with a broom! You will likely break up the spill, making it harder to gather droplets.
  • DO NOT try to wash contaminated clothing! You will likely end up with a contaminated washer and dryer.

Compact Fluorescent Light
(CFL) bulb
Here’s what I tell people TO DO if it’s a small spill:
  • DO remove everyone from the area where cleanup will take place. Shut door of impacted area. Turn off ventilation system. DO NOT allow or gain assistance from children. Remember to remove all pets, as well; and remove all jewelry and watches from your hands as mercury will bond with the metal.
  • DO an easy clean up of mercury from the following surfaces: wood, linoleum, tile and any other like surface.
  • DO throw away contaminated items with proper disposal if a spill occurs on carpet, curtains, upholstery, or other like surface. You only need to cut and remove the affected portion of the contaminated carpet for disposal.

CFL bulbs are less of a hazard, but when broken still need cautious handling and careful breakage cleanup. Energy Star has an excellent guide for homeowners with CFLs.

For Proper Disposal of Mercury visit DEQ’s mercury spill page. To report spills, visit: For better or worse: mercury is a part of our lives, so let’s keep its negative impacts to a minimum (and help me sleep better at night!).

I have worked in the Division of Environmental Response and Remediation for 30 years. When I’m not responding to spills, I enjoy photography, astronomy and genealogy.