Shrinking Great Salt Lake is a major public health hazard

Last year our very own Great Salt Lake gained national attention for being at a record low. The Great Salt Lake can be overlooked by locals as a stinky area east of Utah’s biggest city. Ignoring or minimizing the Lake’s importance to ecological and public health could be detrimental however. 

Low lake levels expose sediment, contaminated by arsenic, which blows along the Wasatch Front, only adding to the toxic air pollution already hanging above our city. First hand accounts of people on the recently exposed lake bed describe frequent dust blastings. These dust storms have a health impact that reaches far beyond the lake. 

A thorough story on the issue published in Popular Science writes “A 2021 study led by environmental economists at Carnegie Mellon University found that a 9.7 and 12.2 percent increase in dust in the US West and Midwest, respectively, between 2016 and 2018 resulted in 9,700 additional premature deaths annually by 2018, translating to $89 billion in damages. While ongoing drought and land and water management are factors, other possible causes of the increase in airborne particulates range from greater wildfire activity to decreased enforcement of the Clean Air Act. Particulate matter 10 microns in diameter is called PM10. Anything smaller than that can damage lung tissue, cause lung cancer, and increase risk of death. Valley fever, a fungal disease that can infect the lungs once it gets kicked up by high winds, is on the rise. Dust-caused traffic fatalities garner the most attention, however.”

Many of us also remember the July 2021 car pile-up that killed 8 in Southern Utah. The increased severity of dust storms in Utah have immediate and long term effects on residents. Meanwhile, local politicians push plans to divert, and use more water from the Great Salt Lake, like the Bear River Development Project

Find the article here.

Photo by Ken Lund