Piedmont Park

AARP Utah Supports Livable Communities

AARP Utah advocates for livable communities, a vision that would improve the quality of life for all of our residents.  We believe many things make a community livable, but key elements of a more livable community include clean air, safe and walkable neighborhoods, numerous transportation options, housing for a variety of income levels, and access to affordable health care.

While all of these elements are part of what makes a community livable, one of the most pressing in Utah is the danger of poor air quality on the health of people 50+.   Utah has 633,000 people over age 50, making up 23% of our population.  The health impact of poor air quality on older adults is considerable.

Bad air causes respiratory illnesses (including lung cancer and COPD), heart disease, increased blood pressure, cognitive decline, a decrease in longevity, and impacts emotional health by causing isolation and depression.   Breathing dirty air has a pernicious effect on our health and our economic well-being.  Every health issue for seniors, whether it is heart, lungs, emotional well-being, longevity or cognitive decline has an economic cost for seniors’ pocketbooks, their families and our community.

Seniors are also warned to stay indoors on poor air quality days during inversions.  There are weeks every year when seniors miss a morning walk with a friend or a trip to church or the store; their isolation and depression worsen.  In addition to diminishing quality of life, such warnings have a negative economic impact as seniors withdraw from the daily activities that bring them pleasure and fulfillment.

Eliminating air pollution makes economic sense not just for older people, but for the state.  According to BYU economist C. Arden Pope, one of the world’s leading experts on particulate pollution, for every dollar spent on cutting air pollution we save $10 in health care costs, reduce premature deaths, and increase economic productivity.    Poor air quality discourages businesses that may be considering a move to Utah.

A recent article by Dr. Bonnie New, former director of Health Professionals for Clear Air, says, “When we see the large impacts of pollution on health, it’s impossible not to notice the financial impacts as well.”  She concludes that there is not only a functional impact on the lives of those affected by diseases and their families but also a staggering economic impact of preventable illness and death in hundreds of billions of dollars nationwide.

We know that inversions hurt everyone in Utah, children as well as seniors.  Breathing air full of particulates early in life can cause permanent lung damage and developmental difficulties.  According to a Harvard School of Health study released this year, children who live in areas with diesel particulates or airborne mercury have twice the risk of autism.  The Centers for Disease Control found that Utah has the highest rate of autism in the country—1 in 47 compared with 1 in 88 nationally.  This is clearly cause for great concern by this and future generations.

Inversions in our state obscure its scenic beauty and add to the gloom of cold winter days.  The extreme health hazard posed by our lengthy winter inversions creates a life or death situation for our vulnerable citizens.  AARP Utah will work together with other organizations to help clean up our air and make our communities truly livable.