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‘Trouble in the Air’ report identifies 62 elevated ozone days last year in Durango

Environment Colorado used EPA data to map pollution
Tailpipe emissions in Durango and the area are one of the leading contributors to ozone and fine particulate pollution. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

A study done by Environment Colorado identified 62 days in 2020 in which Durango had elevated ozone pollution.

Environment Colorado, an advocacy group focused on protecting land, water and open spaces, compiled its “Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathed Polluted Air” study in part with Environmental Protection Agency air pollution records from across the country. The analysis looks at the most recent available data to focus on ground-level ozone and fine particulate pollution.

“Even one day of breathing in polluted air is dangerous for our health,” said Rex Wilmouth, senior program director with Environment Colorado Research and Policy Center. “Fifty-five to 64 days is unacceptable, and we need to do more to deliver cleaner air for our communities.”

In the study, elevated ozone pollution days were measured by days that exceeded the World Health Organization’s guidelines of 51 parts per billion. The EPA standard for elevated ozone days is 70 ppb.

Environment Colorado also measured days with elevated fine particulates in its study. Durango no longer has the proper equipment to monitor fine particulate pollution in the air.

“Monitoring is done through the EPA, and not every monitoring station has the equipment to monitor both ozone and particulates,” Wilmouth said.

In 2018, the year of the 416 Fire in Durango, there were 87 elevated pollution days and 35 elevated fine particulate pollution days.

Archuleta County, Durango’s neighbor to the east, shared the same number of pollution days at 62, while Montezuma County, to the west of Durango, monitored only 43 elevated pollution days. Grand Junction had fewer ozone elevated pollution days than Durango at 46, but including particulate days, had a total of 64 elevated pollution days.

Particulate pollution is more harmful, because particulates can make their way into the bloodstream through the lungs.

“Smog and ground level ozone produces inflammation in the lungs that causes respiratory problems in the lungs,” Wilmouth said. “Particulate pollution consists of extremely small particles that contain toxic chemicals. Particulates can get into the bloodstream and cause more cardiovascular problems like heart attacks and strokes.”

Environment Colorado’s report says poor air quality is a contributing factor to a number of health risks, including damage to the respiratory system, damage to the cardiovascular system and many forms of cancer.

Researchers produced a digital map with the study that shows the number of bad air days in recorded areas across the country for 2020.

Haze seen April 17, 2018, in the Animas Valley north of Durango is the result of smoke blown in from two wildfires burning west of Albuquerque. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

While wildfires have contributed to bad air days in Colorado, Wilmouth said the biggest contributor is definitely vehicles that run on fossil fuels.

“We need to get our fleet of automobiles off of gasoline and fossil fuels, and move to electric vehicles,” he said. “That’s the big transition we need to make here in order to have a big impact on clean air days.”

Wilmouth said over the past 20 years, the state of Colorado has been working to transition toward more renewable energy sources.

“I think the biggest change we’re making is both the transportation sector and the renewable energy sector,” he said. “We need to continue down the route that brings us off fossil fuel and toward wind and solar energy.”

While presenting Environment Colorado’s study, Wilmouth spoke about a number of attempts by the federal government to clean up the air, such as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. If approved, the act aims to jump-start cleaner transportation projects.

njohnson@durangoherald.com

This story has been updated to show that the organization Environment Colorado measures elevated ozone days by the guidelines of the the World Health Organization, and not the by EPA standards.

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