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It was August of 2018 when I first came into contact with the harsh reality of the air quality here in Boulder county. I got an alert on my phone stating that the air quality was yellow, meaning moderate pollution and to shorten my amount of time doing outdoor activities. Growing up in New Jersey, I was used to air pollution from Philadelphia, highways and industrial areas making its way into our suburban backyards. I thought I would be escaping that reality moving here to beautiful Colorado but I was wrong. Today on July 9th 2020 I am faced with yet another warning. This time the air quality index key is red, meaning unhealthy amounts of ozone particulates are in the air. 

Why should we even care about the amounts of ozone in the air? Well, I’ll tell you why and how this can be a very serious health issue for us all. After taking some time on the environmental protection agencies’s website to learn more about ozone and what it actually is I have discovered some unsettling things. When the bright Colorado sun heats up nitrogen oxides & volatile organic compounds, ground level ozone is the byproduct. Ozone is a toxic gas that when inhaled can cause a variety of health issues, especially in children and the elderly. 

According the the EPA’s website these health issues include “chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath and throat irritation”. It has been found that Ozone may also worsen respiratory diseases such as asthma and can, “compromise the ability of the body to fight respiratory infections”. In addition, ozone can cause permanent damage to the lungs and even cause lung cancer and death to those who are regularly exposed to it. 

You may ask, “How does all of this ozone make its way into Boulder?”. National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Gabriele Pfister stated that, “the pollution doesn’t just affect the metro area. Prevailing daytime winds often transport the ozone to the west, exposing the foothills and mountains to high ozone levels”.  This study suggested that ozone levels can actually be more concentrated in the mountainous regions of Colorado than the more populated regions. 

I think that a good starting point to deal with these sorts of issue are to figure out where all of this ozone is actually coming from and bringing awareness to those sources. A 2017 air quality report funded by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found that most of the ground level ozone pollution in the Denver/Front range area comes from transportation and oil and gas operations. Ozone levels are increased due to the everyday activities that we take part in, especially emissions released from vehicles and heavy traffic.  

We need to reduce the amount of ozone particulates that are in the air by not driving around so much. A 2014 report backed by NASA and scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research found that gas powered vehicles and oil/gas operations contribute to about 30-40 percent of the total local ozone production in the Denver metro area. These researchers ran simulations regarding emissions and found that by simply lowering the amount of local emissions that are released, the ozone could be reduced by 6 to 10 parts per billion. That doesn’t sound like much but the researchers state that it could, “make the difference between meeting or exceeding the national ambient air quality standards for ozone”. Right now, we have exceeded those standards and people are being effected. 

It’s simple, we all need to make a collective effort at reducing our vehicular emissions if we want safer air. Lessening the amount of air pollution doesn’t mean that your everyday life needs to change drastically but, we should all be making simple yet effective choices collectively and work together as a community and as a people in order to effectively create change. “Simple Steps. Better Air” is a program created by the Regional Air Quality Council to promote education and positive action regarding ground level ozone pollution here in Colorado. Their website features a ton of simple steps that any individual can take to assist in reducing the amounts of emissions that get into the atmosphere. 

Many potential solutions to this emissions crisis can be found on the “Simple Steps. Better Air” webpage. They suggest reducing the amount of car trips you take, working from home a few days a week, and supporting green transportation. Green transportation could be riding bikes, electric vehicles, carpooling and even walking. If every single person started to adopt these methods of transportation, the individual efforts would add up and things will start to get better.

Reduction of vehicular emissions will inevitably lower the amount of hazardous ozone levels in our “fresh” Colorado air. The adoption and advancements in green energy will also contribute to the reduction of emissions but until then, it’s really up to us as individuals to consciously limit how much pollutants we are putting into the air. I believe that if enough people were to get on board we can overcome this issue of high ground level ozone exposure, making Colorado the fresh air haven that I know it can be.