Denver area again misses deadline to meet EPA air quality standards

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Spurred on by the federal Clean Air Act, Colorado regulators are considering a series of new pollution control measures to reduce the Denver metro area’s long-standing ozone problem – but for the second summer in a row, things are getting worse , not better.

“The smoke detector in Colorado goes off and we have to put out the fire,” said Danny Katz, executive director of Colorado Public Interest Research Group. “Ozone pollution is a danger to public health, and it can damage our lungs (and) contribute to asthma, among many other diseases.”

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Air quality in and around Denver hit unsanitary levels again on Tuesday, as the latest in a long string of federally imposed delays to and fro without the region ‘hitting’ ozone limits based on health established by the Environmental Protection Agency over a decade ago.

A nine-county area known as the Denver Metro / North Front Range Nonattainment Area has repeatedly failed to meet the 2008 EPA National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone, which set the limit at an 8-hour average of 75 parts per billion. Chronic non-compliance has led to a series of downgrades under the Clean Air Act, the last of which was in December 2019, labeling the region a “serious” contravene of air quality laws and giving it up to until July 20, 2021 to shape up.

While it will be some time before the results are official, preliminary data shows Colorado is well below the EPA’s ozone standard. Almost everyone, including state officials, expects the agency to degrade the region again soon, this time to a “serious” non-compliance, triggering a series of new control measures. pollution that will need to be passed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

In the meantime, Colorado residents will continue to suffer the health effects of ozone pollution that appears – amid a summer of historic heatwaves and devastating wildfires across the West – to have a trend in the wrong direction.

Preliminary data released by the EPA AirNow service show that many monitoring stations in the Denver area recorded more days of high ozone in 2021 than in 2020. Tuesday marked the 16th day in a row that the CDPHE issued a quality alert. air for the region, warning that “people with heart or lung disease, older adults and children should avoid prolonged or strenuous exercise outdoors.”

“We will soon have a clearer idea of ​​what the data is saying about our current ozone season,” Andrew Bare, spokesperson for CDPHE’s air pollution control division, said in a statement. “Long-term trends show a drop in ozone values, and it is too early to tell if the high readings seen last year and early this summer reflect a change in that trend or are only part of it. of the variability we’ve seen since the year. year round.

Ozone-forming pollutants come from a variety of sources, with car and truck tailpipes and industrial emissions, particularly from the large Colorado oil and gas sector, known to be two of the main sources of local pollution in the Denver metro area.

“We have planned ambitious regulations in the near future, including a proposal to reduce emissions of all kinds from the oil and gas sector and revisions to the state’s implementation plan,” Bare said. “We are closely monitoring the data and are quick to take action to reduce ozone.”

On Tuesday afternoon, however, CDPHE announced it was suspending a proposal to force large companies in the non-compliance zone to push employees to reduce car trips, as part of an effort to reduce emissions of ozone-generating pollutants and heat-trapping greenhouse gases. . Instead, the state’s Air Quality Control Commission will go ahead with a drastically revised rule that would only require employers to collect data through employee surveys.

Katz said he was “extremely disappointed” with the decision, and called on state officials to continue moving forward with other regulatory efforts, including oil rule-making. and AQCC Gas and an effort by the Colorado Department of Transportation to incorporate pollution standards into long-range transportation planning.

The overall level of air pollution in Denver has declined since the notorious days of the “brown cloud”In the 1980s, and ozone levels have declined slightly over the past two decades. But the no-hit zone remains well above the 2008 ozone standard, and even further above the revised 70 ppb standard that the EPA set in 2015. Other countries have set targets. even lower health limits, with the World Health Organization recommending a standard of about 50 ppb, and scientists say no level of air pollution is known to be certain.

“We have learned over the past decade that the impacts of ozone are actually much larger than we thought,” said Dr. James Crooks, environmental health researcher at National Jewish Health. “The more scientists have studied the health effects of ozone, the worse it looks and the larger it looks.”

“It’s unfortunate that we missed that deadline again,” Katz said. “But I think we have the tools, we have the means, and we just need to go out and do it. I hope this will happen in the next six months.


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