Aspen cops to keep eye out for polluters |

Aspen cops to keep eye out for polluters

Katie Redding
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” The Aspen Police Department was under a cloud of black smoke Wednesday ” literally.

A two-hour smoke school taught Aspen police and community safety officers to identify grossly polluting diesel vehicles.

Aspen construction mitigation officers also attended the training, since heavy construction equipment is a likely offender.

Officers will now be able to enforce the pollution section of the city’s model traffic code, said Jannette Whitcomb, the city of Aspen’s environmental coordinator. Until now, the city has had no certified enforcers. When they have encountered a gross polluter, city officials have simply sent a letter asking for compliance.

Using a smoke simulator, Raymond Elick of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment demonstrated what smoke from an offending vehicle and non-offending vehicle would look like. He then puffed 10 different clouds of smoke from his machine and asked students to identify violations. Students had to correctly identify at least eight of the smoke puffs.

Elick said he could tell the difference between the Aspen officers ” who are new to the test ” and the Denver officers, who have taken the test for nearly 10 years.

“I can see the looks on these guys’ faces, like ‘oh, man,'” he said.

But everyone present passed the test, many with perfect scores.

The city also has purchased a test meter to provide an official evaluation, in case an officer’s on-site judgment is challenged.

But Aspen residents need not run their diesel vehicle to the shop in a panic.

Whitcomb told officers that she didn’t expect them to start writing tickets tomorrow.

“I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t think we’re at that point,” she said.

According to Elick, even when officers do issue citations, they will likely write very few. Aspen’s chosen threshold of 40 percent opacity is high, he said. In the two days that he’d been in Aspen, he hadn’t seen any vehicles polluting over 10 percent.

Officer Matt Burg agreed that Aspen has few grossly polluting vehicles. But he said he liked having the confidence to stop a polluting vehicle if he did see one.

Whitcomb acknowledged that the city’s program is only a step toward eliminating pollutants in the air. Its 40 percent threshold is much lower than Denver’s 20 percent, for example, but a 20 percent threshold requires an investment in expensive monitoring equipment.

She also pointed out that particulate matter is only part of a car’s pollutants. Even with the new training, officers will not be able to cite people for emitting excessive hydrocarbons, CO2 or fine particulate matter.

“It’s the best we can do under the Clean Air Act,” she explained.

In the meantime, she points out that diesel fumes have been linked to respiratory illnesses like asthma.

And the program may be good for car owners as well: Well-maintained engines not only don’t smoke, they also last longer and have better fuel economy.

Whitcomb said that officers won’t target diesel-powered vehicles exclusively. But gas vehicles shouldn’t emit smoke, so the city doesn’t need to hold a class on identifying gas-powered polluters.