2:42pm

Sat May 3, 2014
Environment

Northern Colorado Facing Higher Pollution Levels, But Why?

Colorado became the first state to regulate methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.
Credit Brother Magneto / Flickr - Creative Commons

Colorado has traditionally been known as a pristine state with clean air, but ground-level ozone and smog are changing that. Not every county in Colorado is declining in air quality, but the Front Range is receiving low marks.

Weld, Larimer, Boulder and Denver counties all received poor ratings by the American Lung Association for smog and low-altitude ozone, which forms a hazardous chemical interaction with common pollutants. Children and people with respiratory illness are more susceptible to health problems when there is a high incidence of smog or the human altered ground-level ozone, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

There are a number of possibilities as to why pollution levels are up.

Oil And Gas Development

One potential reason is the rise of the oil and gas production in Colorado. Emissions from that industry contribute to smog. Earlier in 2014, that source of pollution was regulated by the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission, including caps on methane emissions, a contributor to climate change.

Wildfires

In 2012 and 2013, Colorado saw devastating wildfires that produced a lot of smoke that impacted air quality across the Front Range.

Within the past 30 years, the frequency and severity of wildfires has quadrupled [.pdf]. The National Interagency Fire Center [.pdf] in Boise, Idaho predicts that 2014 will have higher incidents of wildfires in places like California, Arizona and New Mexico. NASA projects that as the Earth’s temperature rises, wildfires will spark up in places never seen before.

Despite some of the poor marks given by the American Lung Association, not all forms of pollution are on the rise along the Front Range.

All four counties received good grades when it comes to 24-hour particle pollution, commonly derived from car exhaust. Colorado’s vehicle emission requirements for car registration may play a role in reduced particle pollution from automobiles, which at higher levels leads to heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks.