Denver smog haze pollution brown cloud

Air pollution over Denver in an undated photo. 

In the wake of a recent announcement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that lowered Denver metro region’s air quality rating from “moderate” to “serious,” the city on Monday announced it will partner with public and private researchers to begin in 2020 a multi-year effort to identify the culprits of its air pollution. 

The effort, led by Denver’s Department of Public Health and Environment, will focus on North Denver and deploy new technology, data analysis and more detailed tracking of odor complaints to better understand which pollutants are bubbling up from construction projects versus industrial sources.

“As residential development expands along Brighton Blvd. and the South Platte River valley, we must expand our understanding of air quality to improve the quality of life for those who live in these disproportionately impacted neighborhoods,” Mayor Michael Hancock said in a statement. “This data will help inform future policy decisions that protect our environment.”

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Meeting EPA ozone standards has been challenging for Denver and much of Colorado’s northern urban corridor for more than a decade.  

In 2019, the city launched the Love My Air program, in partnership with Denver Public Schools, to create a citywide air quality monitoring network that evaluates pollutants at or near schools. These efforts will be built upon in 2020 to include more locations and evaluate more pollutants, such as black carbon or soot and volatile organic compounds.

The city will also develop a user-friendly interface to ensure data is accessible to the public, providing summaries in the interim through DDPHE’s website and other public communication channels.

Denver ranks in the top 20 among major U.S. cities with the worst air pollution, according to city documents, and only 53% of residents realize the impacts of poor air quality.

Only complicating the issue is Denver’s growing population, which has increased by more than half since 1990, and nearly doubled the miles traveled by vehicle across the metro area.

In the same time frame, however, the city has lowered its levels in carbon monoxide by 80%, sulfur dioxide by more than 90%, nitrogen dioxide by half and fine particulate matter by 35%.

In March, Gov. Jared Polis asked that the state no longer be exempted from the standard by blaming Colorado’s air pollution on causes found elsewhere.

“We’re sick and tired of pretending we don’t have poor air quality on 20 to 30 days a summer,” Polis told reporters at the governor's mansion recently.

In doing so, the state will be required to ramp up its efforts to improve its air and sharpen its teeth when it comes to regulations.  

The EPA downgrade applies to Denver and eight other Colorado counties — Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Douglas, Jefferson, Larimer and Weld.

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