Air pollution hits an eight-year high |

Air pollution hits an eight-year high

John Colson

Aspen’s air pollution index jumped Monday to its highest pointin eight years, but not to the point where local health officialsare getting worried.Aspen’s air quality monitoring system showed the city’s PM-10levels were 108 micrograms per cubic meter on March 15, accordingto Lee Cassin of the Aspen/Pitkin County Environmental HealthDepartment.The maximum allowable level, established by the federal EnvironmentalProtection Ag-ency, is 150 micrograms per cubic meter. PM-10 istiny airborne dust that can cause health problems in people.Cassin said the levels have been holding steady at around 80 or90 in recent weeks. They always rise in March when the snow meltsfrom roads and a winter’s worth of dust gets kicked up by windand passing cars, she said.Aspen, which once was declared a “federal non-attainment area”because its dust pollution was unacceptably high, has been waginga campaign to keep traffic down and thus lower pollution levels.Cassin said this is the first time since 1991 that the PM-10 levelhas risen above 100. She said the cause may be related to thecity’s recent decision to experiment with discontinuing use ofthe de-icer magnesium chloride, and use more gravel and sand instead.”I know we’ve put down a lot more sand when we’ve been doing theexperiment,” she said. But, “there is no way to tell” if the twoare definitely related at this point.The higher dust levels may simply be due to this year’s warmerwinter temperatures and resultant increase in mud and dirt onthe sides of the streets, she said.

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