Are you worried about the air quality in north-central Colorado? If so, you're not alone. The Denver and Fort Collins metropolitan areas have been consistently ranked among the worst cities in the United States for ground-level ozone levels. This is linked to hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and thousands of premature deaths. In the last two weeks, residents of the Denver metro area and other cities in the northern Front Range have been facing air quality alerts as ozone levels rise above the federal sanitary limit of 70 parts per billion (89 ppb) in Golden, 74 ppb in Rocky Mountain National Park, 81 ppb in the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, 76 ppb in Fort Collins and 73 ppb in Chatfield State Park, southwest of Denver.
The American Lung Association advocates a health limit for ozone of 60 ppb, which is in line with World Health Organization recommendations. Unfortunately, Colorado has failed to meet existing national health standards so frequently over the past decade that Environmental Protection Agency officials last year reclassified the state as a “serious offender”. This puts it in the same league as Phoenix, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, Houston and Salt Lake City. Ozone pollution forms when chemical gases, including volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, mix with sunlight. It causes respiratory problems and triggers asthma attacks.
To combat this issue, doctors from the American Lung Association are lobbying President Joe Biden's administration to make greater investments to install electric vehicle charging stations and provide sufficient incentives to drivers, including tax credits, rebates and free use of charging stations and highway express lanes. If Colorado's constant violations of health limits lead the EPA to further downgrade the state to the category of “serious offender”, health officials would be forced to do more to reduce air pollution. This would include stricter restrictions on oil and gas installations and other industrial sources. Vehicle transport contributes significantly to air pollution, poor air quality, greenhouse gases, health problems and impacts on citizens' quality of life. Denver is unique because its geographical location at the foot of the Rocky Mountains creates an inversion of temperature. This traps contaminants close to the ground, causing poor air quality.
If atmospheric conditions suggest increased ground-level ozone concentrations, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Regional Air Quality Council will issue an ozone warning. The most recent event saw smoke settle from western Canada and remain in much of the state for days. This prompted the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to issue repeated health warnings about air quality. The map also shows high volumes of traffic along I-25, I-70 and I-76 corridors across the state which are vital to Colorado's commercial and tourism industries. Using the Air Quality Index technical assistance document for daily air quality reports can help people quickly determine if air quality is reaching unhealthy levels in their communities. Colorado health officials are considering measures in addition to public transportation reforms that cost billions in an effort to address ozone pollution. Usually warm rising air near the ground keeps pollution away but during winter this warm air layer acts as a layer that keeps cold air close to the surface. To protect yourself from poor air quality it is important to stay informed about current conditions.
The Air Quality Index technical assistance document can help you quickly determine if air quality is reaching unhealthy levels in your community. Additionally, you should consider investing in an air purifier or wearing a face mask when outdoors if ozone levels are high. It is also important to support initiatives that reduce emissions from vehicles such as electric vehicle charging stations or public transportation reforms that cost billions. Finally, you should contact your local representatives to voice your concerns about air quality.