Springs is a breath of fresh air, report says
by Barbara Cotter
April 25, 2012 5:38 PM
Breathe easy, residents of Colorado Springs/El Paso County. The air you inhale is among the best in the U.S., according to one measure in a report issued Wednesday by the American Lung Association.
Colorado Springs ranked in the top 15 “cleanest cities” in the U.S., as gauged by average year-round and 24-hour levels of particle pollution, “the most dangerous and deadly widespread air pollutant in America,” according to the lung association. Particle pollution includes ash, soot, diesel exhaust, dust and acids.
Colorado Springs also came in 7th for having the lowest level of year-round, fine-particle pollution, based on data for 2008-10.
“It says controlled measures in the region are helping: dust-control plans, street-sweeping, making sure point sources, like the Drake Power Plant, are in compliance,” said Tom Gonzales, director of El Paso County Public Health’s Environmental Health Division.
The area has consistently ranked high in the association’s “State of the Air” reports for particulates, but ozone pollution is another matter. In the 2010 report, which looked at data from 2006-08, El Paso County received a letter grade of D. This year, it went up to a C, but Rich Muzzy of the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments said it isn’t an accurate reflection of ozone pollution in the area. The association bases its findings by looking at days when ozone concentrations are high, he said. But the state uses a three-year average, so while some days might be high, the averages are within Environmental Protection Agency limits.
“I think the important thing to keep in mind is that we’re in attainment for current air quality standards,” said Muzzy, environmental program manager for PPACG.
The EPA sets a maximum level of 0.075 parts per million of ozone concentration in the air for an area to be in compliance. The two monitoring stations in El Paso County — one in Manitou Springs, the other at the Air Forcc Academy — came in at 0.070 parts per million and 0.066 parts per million respectively, based on a three-year average.
The source of the ozone has not been pinpointed because only locales that aren’t in compliance have to do an “emissions inventory,” Muzzy said. But the abundant sunshine in the area, particularly in the summer, contributes to ozone pollution.
“Ozone is not emitted directly as a pollutant,” Muzzy said. “It’s formed in the presence of sunlight from a chemical reaction that takes place, so it’s a mixture of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide.”
Most of the substances that react in the sunlight come from motor vehicles, power plants and “anything that burns fossil fuels,” Gonzales said. He and Muzzy say the remedy tends to rest more with individuals: Don’t mow with a gas mower in the middle of a hot, sunny summer’s day, stop filling your gas tank at the “click,” use water-based paints and stains, avoid idling your car for long periods of time and carpool when you can.
The American Lung Association’s report says that, overall, air across the U.S. is the cleanest it’s been since the first report came out 13 years ago, but four out of 10 people still live in areas that get an F for ozone pollution. All pollution can be a health risk to people with pediatric and adult asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Colorado counties' high Ozone Days, 2008-10
(includes letter grade)
Adams County, 6 (C)
Arapahoe County, 6 (C)
Boulder County, 7 (D)
Denver, 1 (B)
Douglas, 17 (F)
El Paso, 4 (C)
Garfield, 2 (B)
Jefferson, 23 (F)
La Plata, 2 (B)
Larimer, 14 (F)
Mesa, 1 (B)
Montezuma, 1 (B)
Weld, 4 (C)
10 Cities Most Polluted by Year-Round Particle Pollution
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
Pittsburgh-New Castle, Pa.
Louisville-Jefferson County-Elizabethtown-Scottsburg, Ky.-Ind.
10 Most Ozone-Polluted Cities
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Yuba City, Calif.-Nev.
San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, Calif.
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, Calif.