BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – People living in or near the Marshall Fire burn area can now check the air quality in their neighborhood in real-time. The data is available on a new online dashboard launched this week by Boulder County Public Health. Residents can also sign up for texts and alerts.

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“We’ve been looking at data all along, and we’re just very pleased that we can finally put that data out before the public so that they can access it as well,” said Bill Hayes, air quality coordinator for Boulder County Public Health.

Months after the Marshall Fire leveled her neighbor’s homes, Hilary Whiton is doing her best to move on.

“We’re just trying to live here and anchor the neighborhood while people clean up and try to rebuild,” Whiton said.

But as winds kick up dust and debris every day, air quality remains a major concern for Whiton. Enough so, she bought monitors for the inside and outside of her home.

“It’s not just trees that were burning, it was household cleaners and plastic and all sorts of things,” Whiton said. “We don’t know how that affects the environment in the long term.”

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Now, Whiton and others will have even more data at their disposal. This week, the county launched an online dashboard with readings from 22 monitors installed at schools and public buildings around the burn area.

“The day after the fire we were already getting calls from people concerned about, ‘is it safe to breathe it in?‘” said Hayes.

Each device reads PM 2.5, a pollutant with long-term health effects. Even on the windiest days, the readings haven’t been as high as some would expect, Hayes said.

“Honestly, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the air quality,” he said. “There’s been a couple of days that for an hour we got into the unhealthy or sensitive population range, but that’s really not unusual for our entire area. We’re not seeing any significant air quality issues above and beyond what we normally have in this area.”

For now, Whiton will rely on her own monitors but appreciates the effort.

“I think that’s good because not everyone has an air monitor,” Whiton said.

She does have one question though, as winds pick up and debris removal begins around the county.

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“Is [PM 2.5] the thing we should be monitoring, or should it be the VOCs? We just don’t have enough information to know what we should be watching.”
While the monitors read PM 2.5, they do not read for volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Hayes said earlier this year, NOAA found those levels are no higher than in any other urban area, and the monitoring vans will be back out doing readings once debris cleanup ramps up.

Conor McCue