Summer is when ground level ozone along Colorado’s Front Range can produce excessive, toxic levels of air contamination. It’s our high ozone season—the familiar hazy skyline.
This is because ground level ozone—the same chemical but different from protective atmospheric ozone—becomes more dense and pervasive in the air we breathe when it’s exposed to sunlight and high temperatures. Ground level ozone is created by greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from oil and gas production but mostly by vehicular exhaust.
Breathing polluted air can trigger any number of health and respiratory issues, particularly for those with asthma.
The Summer Ozone Program
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment monitors the ozone season’s air quality through the Summer Ozone Program and issues Ozone Action Alerts if warranted.
If an Ozone Action Alert is issued, a key recommendation is to limit rigorous outdoor activity during the heat of the day, as “prolonged exposure can cause long-lasting damage to your lungs,” according to the Summer Ozone Program.
New Plans and More Regulations
On August 5, Colorado state officials will unveil a new plan for controlling Colorado air pollution. New plans are required from the state when federal limits and standards of pollution are exceeded, as has been the case for many years; however, producing a new plan will not be a silver-bullet fix for Colorado’s chronic poor air problem, according to some experts.
Gregg Thomas, Director of Denver’s Environmental Quality Division, recently told CBSDenver, “We’ve been here before. Every few years the state develops a new plan, and every time, it doesn’t go far enough.”
Stricter standards and more regulations, thus more barriers to overcome for Coloradans such as higher gas prices, will be imposed on polluting industries by the EPA later this summer when the agency downgrades the northwest region’s status to “severe” from “serious.”
The change of status would also signal that the state of Colorado has not been able to reduce emissions enough to meet federal ozone standards.
Wildfires Contribute to Poor Air Quality
Then there’s the smoke and ash pollution created by wildfires. As you’re likely aware, the fallout from last summer’s wildfires dramatically eroded Front Range air quality, contributing to a record 65 ozone alert days from May 31 to August 31, 2021 — the four months of ozone season.
Real-Time Air Quality Monitoring
Thus far for summer of 2022, Front Range air has yet to be polluted by excessive soot and ash spread by winds from raging wildfires. Air quality standards maintained by the state have stayed, for the most part, in the Good to Moderate ranges. Yet as of July 31, 2022, there have already been 23 Ozone Action Alert Days, according to the Regional Air Quality Council (RAQC).
What You Can Do In Ozone Season
During ozone season and year-round, the #1 action an individual can take to reduce ground level ozone is to not drive a gas or diesel-powered vehicle.
To make it easy to leave a car behind and try public transportation, Commuting Solutions and the Regional Transportation District (RTD) have partnered on Zero Fare for Better Air — a collaborative, statewide initiative designed to reduce ground-level ozone by promoting use of public transit.
During the month of August, high ozone season, customers can ride RTD for free! This is a great opportunity to explore the benefits of public transportation.
Stay aware of fluctuating air quality and conditions day-to-day during ozone season with numerous monitoring programs and data sponsored by the EPA, the state, and municipalities.
The state of Colorado provides real-time information, forecasts, and imagery on their Colorado Air Quality Summary website. A map view to the current status of Colorado air quality is here.