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Hot Summer Days Mean More Haze For Front Range, Mountain Communities

Haze blankets the city in this view of Denver.
Maarten Heerlien
CC BY 2.0
Haze blankets the city in this view of Denver.

This week has brought hazy skies and air quality alerts to the Front Range and Mountain communities.

Some of the pollution is coming from wildfires outside and within Colorado. Ben Crawford, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver in Geography and Environmental Sciences, said wildfire smoke is full of harmful debris called particulate matter.

“These tiny little particles, they can evade our natural defenses, our natural filters, and penetrate deeply into our lungs and end up in the bloodstream,” he said.

Elevated ozone levels have also resulted in multiple ozone action alerts from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in recent days.

Ozone forms in the lower atmosphere when pollutants from cars and from oil and gas activity react in the presence of sunlight. Because summers have longer daylight hours and more intense radiation, ozone levels are often higher at this time of year.

Crawford said the air quality index, or AQI, incorporates both particulate matter and ozone.

“You can think of it as a way to standardize ozone pollution versus particulate matter pollution,” he said. “The air quality index kind of brings those things together on the same scale.”

The current AQI is moderate to unhealthy for sensitive groups. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recommends limiting car trips and outdoor activity, especially during the heat of the day.

I am the 2021 American Association for the Advancement of Science Mass Media Fellow at KUNC. My goal is to tell the true stories of science — and make them understandable and fascinating for all.
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