Guns? Car crashes? Pollution is the real killer

Letter to the Editor originally published in the Salt Lake Tribune
February 07, 2016

By Cherise Udell

Your Jan. 15 article "Guns kill more Utahns than car crashes," highlighted the serious problem we have with guns in Utah. You note that more Utahns die every year from unfortunately placed bullets than from car accidents.

This is a sobering statistic, but even more sobering is the fact that most Utahns are far more likely to die from air pollution than from a gunshot wound or a car crash. Look at these Utah numbers:

• Annual car accident deaths: 256

• Annual gun deaths: 260

• Annual air pollution deaths: 1,000 to 2,000

So, where is the outrage?

The problem is when someone dies from a gunshot wound or car accident, the cause is obvious, but with air pollution, death usually creeps up insidiously and ambiguously. Essentially no one lands in the morgue with a toe tag that says "died of air pollution." Instead, cause of death is listed as heart attack, asthma, lung disease, stroke, SIDS, or cancer. But the result is the same — lives cut tragically and unnecessarily short.

Maybe even more tragic is that we know air pollution kills, yet we do not do everything we can to clean up our air. We let big industrial polluters and trade associations bully us into thinking we must choose between a strong economy and clean air, which is a false choice. In fact, the EPA has shown that for every dollar spent on pollution mitigation and prevention, $30 to $90 of economic benefit is returned to local communities.

As long as we accept polluted air and its accompanying mortality, we will have dirty, stinky air. But when we stand up together and say the birthright of every child to breathe clean air trumps the rights of industry to pollute, then we will have clean air.