DENVER — The air quality around Colorado is going to be bad this weekend. Typical summer ozone paired with wildfire smoke coming from the West from states like California will make for a dangerous weekend, even for healthy Coloradans.
The smoke plume heading toward the state already produced the worst air quality in the world Friday in Utah, beating out cities known for poor air like Beijing. That smoke plume is expected to arrive in Colorado Saturday.
As a result, people are being advised to stay inside if possible this weekend. There are also some ways to help lessen the effects of the air pollution.
Try not to drive or combine trips
This is a motto you’ve likely seen on Colorado Department of Transportation billboards all over the state this summer.
“We know that cars and trucks are certainly in the top two sources of ozone pollution in this region,” said Gregg Thomas, the division director of the Denver Environmental Quality Division.
Experts recommend driving as little as possible, carpooling or taking public transit whenever available to help.
The concept is simply: the more cars on the road, the more pollution goes into the air and sitting in traffic certainly doesn’t help matters.
“Try to get (errands) all done in one trip. It means your car is warmed up. Even in the summertime, believe it or not, a cold engine causes more pollution than a warm one,” Thomas said.
Telecommuting to work is also a good idea if your employer allows it. The idea was even recently brought up at a recent Air Quality Control Commission meeting last month. It would have required employers with a staff of 100 or more in the Denver Metro area to have some level of remote work on poor air quality days. However, the proposal faced broad resistance.
Thomas believes a similar version, perhaps with more voluntary compliance, will be introduced again in the near future.
Make sure your care is tuned up
A well-running car means more fuel efficiency which means less pollution.
Things like a tune-up and making sure your tires are properly inflated are small but important ways to cut down on your carbon footprint and to be a good air quality steward.
Don’t fill up your gas tank during the day
This is another recommendation that’s been reverberated time and again over the years on high ozone days.
Every time you fill up your gas tank, a little bit of the fuel leaks into the air.
Filling up your gas tank during the day releases those same organic compounds and allows the sun to photochemically convert it into ozone more quickly than would be the case in the evening.
Don’t do yard work during the day
This recommendation isn’t just about mowing the lawn but using any type of gas-powered landscaping tool.
“Gas-powered landscaping equipment, I would say, is pound-for-pound probably the most polluting type of engines that we have anymore,” Thomas said. “Those gasoline-powered engines really do not have pollution controls.”
Lawn work is better saved for a day with better air quality or should be done in the evening.
Despite these efforts, the harsh reality is that Colorado has seen more than 30 consecutive days of poor air quality warnings this summer and things don’t seem to be getting any better.
Thomas predicts that the state could be knocked back down into the severe ozone nonattainment category within the next several months as a result.
This will mean that the state will need to get more aggressive with its mitigation efforts, and there may be no choice but to implement more regulations.
That is something Sabrina Pacha has been pushing for during her work as the director of Healthy Air and Water Colorado.
“We need policy action to solve this problem. There are individual actions folks can do but until our state elected leaders that solve this with large statewide policy solutions, we’re not going to see the reductions and air pollution that we really need to,” Pacha said.
Pacha points to increased asthma rates and a number of perfectly healthy people developing respiratory conditions as proof that the issue is getting much worse and needs to be addressed immediately.
“We can’t even enjoy our summer because of the air pollution,” Pacha said.
She would like to see more statewide policies created that incentivize employers to take a hard look at their pollution and come up with ways to contribute to the solution.
While the state looks at the big picture of air quality, every little bit helps.
All of the suggestions for individuals and families seem small, but if a lot of Coloradans commit to taking these steps, particularly on poor air quality days, it could help.
“When we’re talking about 3 million vehicles in this region on any given day even thousands of us doing that can make a difference,” Thomas said.