A recent report details air pollution in Colorado
Nothing conjures a more disturbing image for people in Denver than the words “brown cloud.” For decades, this unnatural phenomenon has loomed over the metropolis, occasionally obscuring any view of the mountains. As a result of pollution from a variety of sources, air quality for millions of people continues to get worse. Environment Colorado recently published a report called Trouble in the Air, analyzing data from across the United States in the year 2018.
Global warming increases the amount of air pollution, and higher air pollution increases global warming. As the temperatures rise, ozone forms at a faster rate. Climate change even causes changes in wind direction, meaning that more days of stagnant air allows ozone levels to build up and create visible smog. While ozone in the upper atmosphere prevents harmful solar radiation from reaching Earth, ground-level ozone presents a serious risk to public health.
Fossil fuels account for the vast majority of toxins in the atmosphere, emitted from power plants and means of transportation. Another significant source of pollution originates from wildfires and controlled burning, releasing harmful particles into the air. Even though fires are not always caused by human activity, the report describes how the climate of Colorado has been getting hotter and drier. Wildfires therefore become more likely as a result of climate change, spreading pollution over thousands of miles.
Denver had more days of poor air quality than Chicago, even though seven million less people live in the metro area. Interestingly, pollution impacts smaller communities just as much as metropolitan areas. Boulder and Colorado Springs faced even more days of unhealthy air quality than Denver, despite having smaller populations.
Some of the health risks posed by air pollution include respiratory and cardiovascular problems, dementia, decreased fertility, and cancer. Children are especially prone to exposure because they walk or get strolled closer to the height of vehicle exhausts, according to the report.
Environment Colorado advocates for transitioning away from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy and strengthening regulations on emissions and air quality. In addition to improving the air, they also seek to save the bee population, ban polystyrene foam, and hold Senator Cory Gardner accountable on environmental issues.
Eric Timlin, a campaign organizer with Environment Colorado, explains, “fossil fuels should stay in the ground, and we should focus on renewable energy like solar or wind.” Colorado has the potential to transform its energy production and shift away from oil and gas. According to Timlin, “it’s such a huge part of our state because we have over 300 days of Sun… and we’ve got the eastern plains with all that wind so we might as well use that.”
Oil and gas production have become integral to the economy of rural Colorado, leading to increased pollution. According to the Trouble in the Air report, the gas industry in northern Colorado corresponds with increased ozone levels. Timlin states that “our leaders need to do more, specifically Cory Gardner because he is one of our federal representatives.” With national elections coming in just a few months, Senator Gardner faces a strong opposition from groups like Environment Colorado.