Regional fires lower Aspen’s air quality |

Regional fires lower Aspen’s air quality

Aspen’s air quality isn’t its usual pristine self because of fires in Colorado and Utah.

Just after 11 a.m. Tuesday, subscribers to the local Pitkin Alert notification system were apprised of Aspen’s air quality, which had been lowered to “moderate,” the term for a score between 51 to 100. Typically the index gives Aspen’s air the best score possible, between 0 and 50, putting it in the “good” range.

Even the casual observer who doesn’t pay attention to air quality could tell something was up the past couple of days; the noticeable haze Monday and Tuesday made the skies a little less blue.

“For the general population, what this really just means is we’ve got some pollution in our air,” said Jeannette Whitcomb, the city’s senior environmental health specialist. “But it’s not a major indicator that you should change your outdoor-activity behavior.”

The score is a combination of the levels of the air pollutants ozone, particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5) and particulate matter 10 (PM 10).

Those potentially affected by the air quality — at 5:20 p.m. Tuesday the index gave it a score of 77 — are ones who use oxygen tanks, have respiratory difficulties, and are elderly or infants or toddlers, Whitcomb said.

“They could have shortness of breath, or they could have pain with breathing,” she said. “For people on the severe side with respiratory illnesses, it could trigger asthma attacks.”

Those folks are best advised not to physically push themselves in these conditions, Whitcomb said, suggesting that bringing along an inhaler for a casual walk along the Rio Grande Trail, for instance, is a safe practice. The alert was sent out because when the air quality index “is in this range, this is an awareness tool, and not used to be an alarmist,” Whitcomb said.

The city’s air quality index is updated in real time and can be accessed at The city does not have an app for the site, but iPhone users, when on the website, can add it to their home screen by tapping the share button and following the prompts.

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