City: Aspen air quality still good despite haze |

City: Aspen air quality still good despite haze

The haze in Aspen in recent days is coming from numerous wildfires burning in California, Oregon and Washington, according to the National Weather Service, but city officials say the air quality in town is good.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

The haze in Aspen in recent days is coming from numerous wildfires burning in California, Oregon and Washington, according to the National Weather Service.

However, the smoke wasn’t causing a massive decline Wednesday or Thursday in area air quality, said Jannette Whitcomb, the city of Aspen’s senior environmental health specialist.

“The air is good,” she said. “Even though it looks hazy, anybody can choose to go outside and hike up Aspen Mountain.”

Whitcomb directed anyone concerned about the air quality to a city website, http://www.aspen, which provides a nearly up-to-the-minute assessment of Aspen air quality. The site, which debuted in January, provides readings of ozone levels as well as two different types of particulate matter.

The site then combines those numbers into a single number that is a measurement of overall air quality, she said. On Thursday, that number was 47, which was on the high side of the green, or “good,” level of air quality.

When it goes above 50, the air is considered to be of moderate quality and can cause problems for people with respiratory issues, the elderly and young children, Whitcomb said. Above 100, the air is considered unhealthy for those sensitive groups, she said.

The city spent $5,000 on the new website and about $30,000 on a new air quality monitor, Whitcomb said. That money came from air-quality impact fees paid by developers. The only taxpayer money involved in the project was for paying for Whitcomb’s time, she said.

“It’s a great deal,” she said.

Wednesday was the first hazy day Aspen has had since the new equipment and website came online in January, Whitcomb said.

Cyclists in town for the USA Pro Challenge were likely unaffected by the haze, she said.

Chris Cuoco, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the smoke is likely to dissipate somewhat today and Saturday thanks to changes in the wind.

“(Today), the wind flow will be from the due west, which puts us in a bit of a sweet zone between fires,” Cuoco said, meaning the California smoke will go south of the Aspen area and the smoke from the Pacific Northwest fires will go north.

However, it’s difficult to predict wind patterns after Saturday, he said, adding that smoke could easily return to the area.

“Those fires aren’t going out anytime soon,” he said.

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