By Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4)– The Front Range may be gasping at the results of the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” 2022. It lists some of Colorado’s cities as having some of the worst air quality in the nation.

(credit: CBS)

Denver and Aurora rank 7th worst in the nation for ozone. Fort Collins, 18th.

“I think it’s something that needs to be taken a look at very seriously and we need to get ahead of the curve,” who was wearing a mask downtown, partially for COVID, but partially for pollution concerns.

He had come through Boulder earlier in the day when it was smoky. When air is bad, “That’s when I put on the 95.”

The story of the danger is hard to explain notes Dr. Anthony Gerber, a professor of medicine and pulmonologist at National Jewish Health.

“We as humans tend to grab on to very specific examples of something bad happening. And air pollution doesn’t have that effect.”

There are times when we see pollution, but the harm it causes is more difficult to perceive.

(credit: CBS)

“If someone has a heart attack after a polluted day or goes to the emergency room with lung disease when it’s polluted you don’t really feel it the same way you feel a car accident or a crime… So this is a big problem because it makes us tend to undercount how bad those effects are.”

The Lung Association has been doing its report since 2000. There have been some successes due to the Clean Air Act, emissions from transportation, power plants and manufacturing have been reduced. But there are other problems including climate change inducing more ozone production due to higher temperatures.

“It’s such a great city and state to be outside and to be healthy. So it is tough when the air quality stinks,” said Leslie Paffe, who lives only two and a half miles from downtown. Ozone continues to be a problem says Dr. Gerber.

“Traffic pollution is a big contributor, oil and gas,” he notes.

They expel the volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen and sunlight, produce ozone. Ozone helps cut harmful rays in the upper atmosphere, but at ground level, it’s bad breathing.

“You breathe it in, one of the oxygens breaks off and it just directly damages your tissue and causes inflammation.”

There’s also particulate pollution which has worsened as fires have worsened.

(credit: CBS)

“I do like the city so I’m used to that part of it, but where there were fires I did notice a big difference,” said Donna Driscoll who lives downtown.

“The air quality was so bad from all the fires. And you literally could smell smoke in the air when you walked outside,” said Paffe.

The smoke is harmful to people with preexisting conditions and the elderly says Dr. Gerber, but he is also worried about children.

“Year after year of polluted summers that might impact their lung development or cause to develop chronic lung disease when they’re older.”

Alan Gionet