Colorado’s efforts are not enough to solve its ozone problem

A year after health officials issued a record number of warnings for high ozone levels on the Colorado front range, federal and state officials are trying to rein in gas that could pose a health risk to outside activities.

But new Colorado laws aimed at improving air quality along the eastern urban corridors of the Rocky Mountains are not expected to do much to directly reduce ozone, experts say, for lowering levels. “These are not magic bullets that will bring us to consent, but they will help reduce emissions,” said Michael Silverstein, executive director of the Regional Air Quality Council, the leading air-quality planning agency in the front nine counties. Range.

In the most recent legislative session, Colorado lawmakers passed three bills aimed at improving air quality: one replacing high-polluting diesel buses with electric buses, another funding to give residents access to free public transportation for one month during the high-ozone season, and a third. Creates a system to warn the public about toxic emissions from sources.

The proposal to reclassify nine counties in the front range, including the Environmental Protection Agency Denver, from “serious” violators of federal ozone standards to “serious” violators would make a more significant difference, Silverstein said. (EPA’s “Failure” classification begins with “Severe” and then moves on to “Severe” and “Extreme”)

But other health experts say federal or state action will not be enough to protect public health.

“At times, you’re just wearing band-aids, and that’s what it looks like,” said James Crooks, an air pollution researcher at National Jewish Health at Denver Hospital who specializes in respiratory diseases. “It’s better not to have band-aid, but it’s not going to solve the problem.”

Ozone is formed when chemicals are released into the atmosphere through vehicle emissions, the development of oil and gas, and fires are created by the sun. Ozone pollution that transcends federal boundaries is a stubborn problem in the Mountain West Valley, especially in Phoenix; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Salt Lake City; And Denver.

The front range has one of the worst ozone problems in the country. Last year, health officials in the eastern county of the Rocky Mountains issued a 65-day “Ozone Action Day Alert” from May 31 to August 31, the highest ozone season. This is the highest number since record-keeping began in 2011.

The EPA has determined that over a three-year period from 2018 to 2020, the ozone layer in the front range was 81 parts per billion for more than eight hours. The federal limit set in 2008 was 75 ppb, but the current set in 2015 is 70 ppb. Under a proposal to change nine county areas in the front range from “severe” to “serious” violations, the region must meet those standards by 2026.

A final decision on the proposal is expected from the EPA this fall.

“Ground-level ozone remains one of the most challenging public health concerns we face, affecting a large number of Coloradians and their families,” EPA Regional Administrator Casey Baker said in an April news release announcing the proposed changes.

Crooks said achieving 70 ppb is a tough goal and it’s not low enough to protect public health. In fact, no ozone layer is safe, he said. “We might make a noise and get to 75,” Crooks said. “But 70 is going to be really difficult without decarbonization,” which means replacing gas and diesel vehicles with electric vehicles.

One of the challenges of ozone depletion is trying to control the emission of ozone precursors from countless sources. Thousands of oil and gas wells are in the front range, some in the suburbs, and their emissions, along with vehicle emissions, are the primary source of ozone.

Complicating matters is that one-half to two-thirds of the ozone that hits the front range comes from outside the state, some from as far away as Asia. Ozone background levels – naturally or man-made ozone that is produced from outside the region – can be up to 60 ppb.

Another problem is the smoke from the fire that blankets the state every summer. And rising temperatures, as a result of climate change, are producing more ozone.

Ground-level ozone is the same chemical that ozone is higher in the atmosphere, but there it provides an important shield that protects the Earth from harmful ultraviolet rays.

On the ground, odorless gas can cause shortness of breath and eye stings and cause asthma attacks. It makes people prone to pneumonia and coronary damage. Worldwide, more than 1 million premature deaths were caused by high ozone levels in 2010, a study found. Ozone and other contaminants can increase the risk of hospitalization and death in people infected with Covid-19, according to a recent study.

Air pollution hits children, older adults and those who work the hardest outside, and the effects fall disproportionately on disadvantaged areas, whose residents often lack the resources to move to clean areas.

High levels of ozone cause severe damage and death to plants.

Changing the status of ozone violators in the front range from “severe” to “severe” could have some effects, some experts say. One result is that refineries will have to create a special gasoline blend for vehicles in nine counties in the front range that will be less volatile and contribute less to the atmosphere. This could increase the price of gas by 5% to 10%.

“We’re going to move from some high-emission gasoline to low-emission gasoline,” Silverstein said. “If it spreads in the ground and burns with low emissions, it will not evaporate. We will see the benefits of ozone emissions as soon as we get to the station. “It may not be until next year or 2024.

Another result is that hundreds of companies that are not regulated under current rules will come under regulatory scrutiny and be held accountable for their emissions.

The Biodiversity Center and other environmental advocacy groups have filed lawsuits against the EPA in an attempt to force a “severe” ozone listing for the front range and other parts of the United States.

Robert Ukeili, an attorney at the Center for Biodiversity, thinks changing the situation will make a difference.

“When we go from‘ severe ’to‘ severe ’, it reduces the margin of pollution that is considered a major source,” he said. “The state needs to issue major source permits and it will start reducing pollution.”

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