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Aspen ozone level below U.S. standard

Aspen Times staff report
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Aspen’s ozone levels for January were well below the national standard, according to local government officials.

In what was a first attempt at monitoring ground-level ozone, the city’s environmental health department began monitoring Dec. 30. 

“Staff decided to expand Aspen’s air quality monitoring to include ozone when they heard that the U.S. Forest Service had recorded the highest level of ozone for the Western Slope on top of Aspen Mountain in the summer of 2007, at a level of 79 parts per billion [over an eight-hour average],” said Jannette Whitcomb, the city’s environmental health program coordinator.

The concentration was above the Environmental Protection Agency’s acceptable level of the gas at 75 parts per billion.

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At ground level, ozone is detrimental to human health. It can trigger chest pain, coughing and congestion, and can worsen asthma, bronchitis and emphysema, according to city officials.

“Aspen’s active population is particularly susceptible to its effects as are Pitkin County’s high percentage of people with asthma,” said Lee Cassin, the city’s environmental health director. “The air pollutant also damages crops, trees and other vegetation. In Aspen, ozone is likely a result of oil and gas drilling in the region, and motor vehicle exhaust and gasoline vapors.”

Located near the intersection of Highway 82 and Cemetery Lane, the city’s ozone monitor will help determine if levels in the Aspen area are below the EPA’s standard. The analysis will require three years of data.

In the near term, if levels approach the EPA standard, officials will take action by cross-referencing weather, traffic, and oil and gas data in light of the new monitor’s results. That information will allow officials to determine what actions, if any, are needed to reduce ozone levels.

“The monitoring system is designed to provide real-time ozone readings on an hourly basis,” Whitcomb said. “But it’s not surprising that Aspen was within levels in January.

“That is the case for most cities during the winter. Summer is the major ozone season, given how ground-level ozone is formed.”

Ozone is a gas that occurs both in the Earth’s upper atmosphere and at ground level. In the upper atmosphere, ozone is considered good, protecting from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. At ground level, ozone is considered bad, and is an air pollutant that is harmful to breathe and that damages crops, trees and other vegetation. It is a main ingredient of smog.

Hot weather and sunlight interacting with oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organics (VOC) cause ground-level ozone to form in harmful concentrations in the air. Emissions from oil and gas drilling and motor vehicle exhaust are thought to be the main sources of NOx and VOC, with gasoline vapors and chemical solvents being lesser sources.


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