But her city has now been thrust to the precipice of what Ben Abbott, an ecologist at the local Brigham Young University, calls “one of the worst environmental disasters in modern US history”, with the rapidly shrinking Great Salt Lake, just a short distance from the city, leaving behind a lakebed laced with arsenic, mercury and other toxins. The wind is already beginning to pick up these toxins in airborne plumes that will only grow as the lake, which could disappear within five years, recedes further.
Summers marked by roiling, poisonous clouds sweeping in off the lake is something that “of course worries me”, says Mendenhall. A host of respiratory, cardiac and cancer-related problems could be stirred through the city’s 200,000-strong population, which is part of a broader string of urban and suburban development of 2.8 million people wedged between the lake and the Wasatch mountain range in Utah.
“It’s up to us and the state of Utah to make massive sweeping changes or else the west side of Salt Lake City moving into the downtown and up to the benches where the air hits the wall of our foothills will be toxic,” says Mendenhall.