By Jacqueline Quynh

DENVER (CBS4) – Recent stay-at-home orders have been giving scientists a unique opportunity to collect data to show how the air quality is being impacted.

Air quality monitors used by Denver Public Schools (file photo credit: CBS)

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment monitors around the Denver area have shown particulate matter has not been as high as usual, but that data has yet to be analyzed. Meanwhile, satellite images taken around the world (including Colorado) appear to show fewer emissions, but scientists with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder believe observations made from those shots are flawed.

“Right now all we can see is the raw data of the emitted compounds that typically conspire to form ozone in March because the days are too short, there’s not enough sunshine, and the meteorological conditions are not conducive to producing high ozone in the area,” said Frank Flocke who works in the atmosphere chemistry observations and modeling lab at NCAR.

Though there may be a dip in emissions, Flocke said it’s only temporary and should go back up to previous levels when restrictions are lifted.  However, he said now is a time to think about commuting and taking alternative forms of transportation to help improve air quality in the future.

A view of Colorado's Front Range from Mount Sanitas in Boulder in mid-March 2020.

A view of Colorado’s Front Range from Mount Sanitas in Boulder earlier this month. (credit: CBS)

CDPHE officials have said that if any restrictions are still in place at the start of the upcoming summer ozone season, it could mean a decrease in the number Ozone Action Days. The official ozone season starts June 1.

Public health officials are also highly discouraging “open burning” at any time to help reduce the potential for additional respiratory effects from smoke during the COVID-19 pandemic. Open burning is any fire outdoors where smoke is released directly into the open air without first passing through a chimney or smokestack.

Jacqueline Quynh


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