Town’s pollution peak up in 2001
November 22, 2002
Particulate pollution levels in Colorado dropped in 2001, but Aspen’s peak reading of what’s called PM-10 pollution was up a bit over prior years, according to data from the state health department.
Although Aspen’s highest reading ? 66 millionths of a gram per cubic meter of air ? was up from its peak reading in the prior three years, overall, 2001 saw a continuing drop in number of days when Aspen’s PM-10 levels exceeded 50 millionths of a gram per cubic meter of air. The federal health standard is 150, though several recent studies have shown increased death rates and hospital admission rates at lower PM-10 levels, according to Lee Cassin, Aspen’s environmental health director.
Weather is a factor in PM-10 levels and could have contributed to the minor spike in Aspen’s peak reading in 2001, Cassin said.
“I don’t think you can say any one thing caused it,” she said.
Particulate air pollution is harmful both because of the size of the particles and their chemical composition. Small particles are easily inhaled deep into the lungs where they can cause respiratory damage, according to the state. Particulates can also contain a host of carcinogens, including products of combustion in wood smoke and restaurant grill smoke, heavy metals like arsenic from de-icers and other natural and human sources, and diesel and gasoline exhaust. Geologic particles come from unpaved road shoulders, mud tracked out from construction sites, windblown dust and road sand.
In the state as a whole, in every year since PM-10 monitoring began, at least one town has exceeded the daily PM-10 health standard. No place in Colorado has ever exceeded the standard for the year as a whole.
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Aspen ranks fourth on the state’s list of the all-time worst PM-10 readings recorded in Colorado. The reading, of 236, came in 1991, before several air-quality improvement measures were implemented, Cassin noted. These include daily street sweeping to remove mud tracked onto the roads and other dust and debris; expanded and more frequent bus service; paid parking; controls on woodstoves, fireplaces and restaurant grills, and the startup of the Galena Street Shuttle.
To put Aspen’s PM-10 levels in perspective, Cassin added, the following municipalities had cleaner air than did Aspen: Boulder, Longmont, Denver (at the Gates monitoring station), Fort Collins, Greeley, Vail, Telluride, Silverthorne, Glenwood Springs, Rifle, Grand Junction and Montrose.
Recording higher PM-10 levels than Aspen were: Commerce City, Denver (at the Visitor Center), Lowry Air Force Base, Adams County, north Denver, Crested Butte, Steamboat Springs, Breckenridge, Gunnison, Pagosa Springs, Durango, Olathe and Delta.
The report also notes other air pollution trends and efforts in Colorado. Carbon monoxide levels continue to decline, due to cleaner-burning cars, while ozone levels on the Front Range have not improved at all in the past eight years.
Car exhaust and diesel exhaust are now believed to be the main causes of poor visibility in the Denver area. They are also thought to be the main causes, along with dust, of the finest particulate air pollution.
Anyone who is interested can review the data in the city Environmental Health Department offices on the second floor of Aspen City Hall. One of the two reports is available on the state’s Web site at http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/ap/rttplinks.asp. Aspen’s most recent month’s PM-10 readings are available on the city’s Web site at http://www.aspenpitkin.com/depts/44/air_readings.cfm.
For more information, contact Cassin at 920-5075.