Higher elevation neighborhoods, most often above the investment line, are generally less affected as pollution increases. But on the West Side, closer to many sources of pollution, residents can get caught up in a thicker pea soup of car exhaust, refinery emissions and other pollutants.

“It irritates my eyes and I get sinusitis,” said Jorge Casillas, 58, who has lived on the West Side for 15 years. «It’s hard to be stuck in the valley.»

In general, emissions have improved in Salt Lake City, mainly due to vehicle emissions standards enacted by the Obama administration’s EPA, according to Perry. The The EPA in 2021 proposed to relist the Salt Lake City area as in the «achievement» of small particle contamination, it had not been sufficiently controlled.

“When we switch to electric vehicles, our air quality will improve dramatically,” Perry said.

But wildfires and dust storms off the Great Salt Lake are erasing the progress that has been made. For those on the West Side, it adds a new layer of concern for your health.

“There is so much sediment and so much trapped for so long. He is taking out things that have been trapped for 100 years,” Casillas said. “Are there carcinogens or other health risks? That’s what worries me. There are so many children in the neighborhood.”

A drumbeat of media coverage about dust and pollution has spooked some Utahns.

“I have received several emails from concerned citizens who are reconsidering living in Salt Lake City,” said Janice Brahney, an assistant professor in Utah State University’s department of watershed sciences.

‘We do not know’

When USGS researchers mapped the samples collected from their dust traps, they found something interesting.

While other metals such as nickel, thallium, and lead were more likely to exceed EPA markers in poorer, less white communities like Rose Park, arsenic was more concentrated in samples from affluent communities, possibly due to its use. former as fertilizer in agriculture. land

The researchers suspect that urban and diverse neighborhoods are getting much of their dust and the toxic metals within that dust from local sources: nearby polluters or construction projects. Dust from the Great Salt Lake and other nearby beaches may also pick up local contaminants from nearby mines, refineries, and pesticides as the dust travels toward the city.

Meanwhile, the researchers found the highest levels of dust and metals in the suburbs outside of Salt Lake City. The researchers suspect that communities north of the city, including areas like Syracuse, Ogden and Bountiful, could be receiving the bulk of the dust blown from the lake. In early October, less than a mile from what was once the lakefront, workers were hard at work putting together new homes.

These areas are an air monitoring dead zone, Perry said.

“There is almost no sampling north of Salt Lake City,” he said. “We really lack a cohesive network to answer the question of who is most affected.”

Putman and his colleagues installed another 17 dust traps, all nicknamed «Woody,» in counties north of Salt Lake this year to better assess risk in those areas.

Annie Putman, a USGS researcher, next to a dust capture sensor. The researchers suspect that suburban communities north of Salt Lake City could be receiving the bulk of the dust blown from the lake.Evan Bush/NBC News

So much remains unknown. While the EPA has detection levels for metals in soil, there are no environmental standards for exposure to toxic metals contained in dust.

“How much arsenic has to be there in a 24-hour period for the dust to cause problems, we don’t know. We don’t have any studies that can tell us that,» Putman said. “What are the short-term or long-term consequences of that? We do not know anything».

The researchers also aren’t sure if the arsenic and other metals in the dust are «bioavailable,» meaning they can be taken up by plants, animals, and humans. The tests are ongoing. Blakowksi is growing cabbage in a lab and spraying the plants with dust samples from the Great Salt Lake to see how much arsenic they absorb.

In California, taxpayers have spent close to $2.5 billion to control dust emissions in Owens Lake, which was drained by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power only to become the largest man-made source of dust in the US.

Researchers say the Great Salt Lake poses a much bigger threat.

“The area of ​​the lake bed currently exposed is more than seven times the total area of ​​Owens Lake,” Blakowski said, adding that the downwind population is about 50 times greater in the case of Utah. «We can not wait. It will just get dustier and there will be serious implications for human health and the ecosystem if we sit on this for too long.”