New EPA ozone standards can double Colorado’s violation rate |

New EPA ozone standards can double Colorado’s violation rate

Ivan Moreno
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” The new air quality standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency mean Colorado will be out of compliance at more than twice the rate it is now.

But it will be years before the state has to comply with the new rules, said Ken Lloyd, executive director of the Regional Air Quality Council, the planning agency for the Denver-metro area.

The EPA Wednesday afternoon announced a new, stricter standard for the number of units of ozone, or smog, that air can contain. The new standard is 75 parts per billion, down from the current maximum concentration of 80 to 84 parts per billion.

Colorado exceeds the current standard less than 10 days each year, Lloyd said. The state would exceed the new standard an average of 25 days a year, he said.

The peak season for ground-level ozone is in the summer, when the sun bakes pollutants such as engine exhaust, wildfire smoke and vapors from everything from paint cans to oil and gas wells. Smokestacks and tailpipes also contribute to the problem.

Last summer, air monitoring stations along the Front Range recorded ground-level ozone readings above the federal standard of 80 parts per billion, with one northwest metro area hitting 90 parts per billion.

Doctors and public health experts have warned that high ozone levels affect the elderly, children and people with respiratory problems.

Jeremy Nichols, director of Denver-based Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action, said the polluted air causes permanent lung damage and triggers asthma attacks. He said Colorado has the second-highest number of people who suffer from asthma in the country.

A nine-county area along the Front Range ” Denver, Jefferson, Douglas, Broomfield, Boulder, Adams, Arapahoe, Weld and Larimer ” in November was found to be in violation of the ozone standard set by the EPA, based on a rolling three-year average of data.

A list released by the EPA Wednesday found that individual counties above the new standards based on data from 2004 to 2006 are Arapahoe, Douglas, Jefferson, and Weld. Boulder levels were right at the standard.

With the new standard, there will be other areas that will be exceeding the ozone limit, Nichols said.

Although Nichols welcomed the change from the EPA, he said he’s worried the new standard is not enough to protect people who suffer from respiratory problems. The ideal standard, Nichols said, would be 65 parts per billion.

“We need to be doing a lot a better,” he said, adding that he hopes the new standards will still spur changes throughout the state.

Nichols said the state will need to require that cars have lower emissions, and get “a handle on rampant oil and gas drilling” in the state. He also said emissions from the state’s coal-burning power plants need to be lowered.

“It’s really going to take a well-rounded strategy but those are the three big ones,” Nichols said.

Paul Tourangeau, director of the Air Pollution Control Division at the state Department of Public Health and Environment, said his agency will have to see the final details from the EPA’s new ruling before they figure out where they will focus on to achieve future compliance.

Tourangeau said the state is currently finishing a plan to comply under the current standards. If a state fails to submit a plan to the EPA, sanctions can be imposed, such as restrictions on highway funding, he said.