Utah’s dirty air to become subject of video game

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - State environmental officials are taking credit for efforts to clean Utah’s dirty air by adopting a series of plans for mandatory emissions reductions.

But the real work has yet to come. Now for a little fun.

Developers are working on a video game to encourage people to change their daily habits when emissions build up along the Wasatch Front during winter inversions.

Video games can teach such complex topics as air-pollution chemistry, officials at the University of Utah said. The school’s game division recently picked up a $40,000 grant to develop the game.

It will underscore the factors that contribute to poor air quality, said Roger Altizer, director of game design and production for the university’s Entertainment Arts & Engineering program.

For example, tailpipe emissions account for 57 percent of Utah’s pollution. In winter, heating systems spew out 32 percent, according to emissions inventories calculated by regulators. Industry accounts for just 11 percent of the problem; the rest comes from a wide assortment of sources, according to the Utah Division of Air Quality.

The video game is the latest of wide-ranging efforts by state officials to clean the air. They ban wood burning and implore people to drive less during pollution episodes, but say a larger effort by citizens is needed to make a difference.

Northern Utah remained under a health alert this weekend because of high soot counts.

“It’s important to have young people versed in some of our air quality challenges,” said Altizer. He called the video game one way to raise public awareness.

The funding comes from the Utah Clean Air Partnership, an initiative of Gov. Gary Herbert to achieve voluntary pollution reductions. Former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson heads the UCAIR mission.

The organization awarded more than $350,000 in clean-air grants last week, mostly for public-education campaigns.

Grants will be used to replace homeowners’ fireplaces, add a new GREENbike rental station in a residential area of Salt Lake City, and install charging stations for electric vehicles around Salt Lake County. UCAIR also is funding a KUED documentary called “The Air We Breathe.”

In an annual report, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality last week trumpeted the state’s Jan. 8 adoption of a series of comprehensive plans to curb air pollution. It took regulators four years to identify the most effective ways to cut everyday emissions. The plans are designed to bring northern Utah into compliance with federal air-quality standards by 2019.

“Air quality is a top priority for our state,” said Amanda Smith, the department’s executive director.

Another recent grant by Herbert’s Office of Economic Development will help the planning group Envision Utah promote voluntary ways to reduce emissions.

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