DENVER, Colo. (CBS4) – The air quality around the Northern Front Range is getting worse, and government regulators may impose new sanctions on Colorado even if some of the problem is drifting in from out-of-state.
“By late July, early August, it’s not uncommon for us to be seeing increased air pollution, particularly ozone values,” said Dan Welsh, an Air Quality meteorologist for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “This year, we’ve been seeing a little bit higher values than we would typically expect. Particularly during the early part of the ozone season. In early June, the wildfire season got going a little earlier than typically anticipated in Colorado, but more so in other states. And that has certainly had an influence on the air quality, both for ozone as wildfire smoke can contribute to ozone formation but certainly, we’ve seen higher values of fine particulate matter than we would normally expect this time of year.”
Especially late in the day the Air Quality Index can reach over 100, meaning the air is unhealthy for sensitive groups. With a typical weather pattern in the late summer, the Front Range is built to hold onto ozone and particulate because of the airflow patterns and heating, Welsh said. Finding relief isn’t easy.
“A change in the weather pattern could bring some relief. Stronger winds from the west might just bring more smoke and may not improve things,” Welsh said.
The Environmental Protection Agency is set to downgrade the Denver and Front Range region from serious to severe for nonattainment under the Clean Air Act. Air quality measurements over the past few years have become worse and could mean the area sees new restrictions on emissions next year.
Welsh believes poor air quality summers could become consistent.
“It all depends on many moving parts, including the weather patterns,” he said. “We don’t really expect to see a decrease in the fire activity, and some of these long hot dry stretches. So, I’d hesitate to call it the new normal, but I also would not expect it to go away at least long term.”