Colorado’s Efforts Not Enough To Solve Ozone Problem, Experts Say – Greeley Tribune

A year after health officials issued a record number of warnings about high ozone levels in Colorado’s Front Range, federal and state officials are trying to curb the gas that can make outdoor activities a health risk.

But new Colorado laws aimed at improving air quality along this urban corridor east of the Rocky Mountains may not do much to reduce ozone directly, according to experts tasked with lowering levels.

“These aren’t magic bullets that will get us compliant, but they will help reduce emissions,” said Michael Silverstein, executive director of the Regional Air Quality Council, the leading organization for air quality planning in nine counties front area.

During the last legislative session, the Colorado legislature passed three air quality bills: one to replace highly polluting diesel buses with electric buses, and another to provide funds for residents to have free public transit for a month during the high ozone season. and the third creates a system to alert the public to toxic emissions from industrial sources.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to reclassify nine counties in the Front Range, including Denver, from “severe” violations of state ozone standards to “severe” violations would entail more significant changes, Silverstein said. (The EPA classifications for “noncompliance” start with “serious” and then progress to “severe” and “extreme”).

But other health experts say neither federal nor state measures will be enough to truly protect public health.

“Eventually you just put band-aids on, and that’s what it feels like,” said James Crooks, an air pollution researcher at National Jewish Health, a Denver hospital that specializes in respiratory diseases. “Better band-aids than none, but that won’t solve the problem.”

Ozone is created when chemicals released into the atmosphere via vehicle exhaust, oil and gas development, and wildfires are baked by the sun. Ozone pollution that exceeds federal limits is a persistent problem in the Mountain West valleys, particularly in Phoenix. Albuquerque, New Mexico; Salt Lake City; and Denver.

The Front Range has one of the country’s worst ozone problems. Last year, health officials in counties east of the Rocky Mountains issued “Ozone Action Day Alerts” for 65 days from May 31 to August 31, the peak ozone season. That’s the highest number since records began in 2011.

The EPA found that over the three-year period from 2018 to 2020, average eight-hour ozone levels in the Front Range were 81 parts per billion. The federal limit set in 2008 was 75 ppb, but the current one, set in 2015, is 70 ppb. Under the proposal to change a nine-county Front Range area from a “serious” to a “severe” violation, the region would have to meet that standard by 2026.

A final decision on the proposal is expected from the EPA this fall.

“Ground-level ozone remains one of the biggest public health issues we face, affecting large numbers of Colorado residents and their families,” EPA regional administrator KC Becker said in an April news release announcing the proposed change was announced.

Crooks said that 70 ppb is a difficult target to reach and that it is not low enough to protect public health. In fact, no ozone level is safe, he said. “We can maybe muddle through and get to 75,” Crooks said. “But 70 is going to be really hard to do without decarbonization,” meaning petrol and diesel vehicles will be replaced by electric vehicles.

A challenge in reducing ozone is trying to control the emission of ozone precursors from myriad sources. Thousands of oil and gas wells are located along the Front Range, some in suburban areas, and their emissions, along with vehicle emissions, are the major sources of ozone.

To make matters worse, half to two-thirds of the ozone plaguing the Front Range comes from outside the state, some even from Asia. Background levels of ozone — natural or man-made ozone sourced from outside the region — can be as high as 60 ppb.

Another problem is the smoke from wildfires that blankets the state each summer. And rising temperatures as a result of climate change ensure that more ozone is produced.

Ground-level ozone is the same chemical as ozone high in the atmosphere, but up there it provides a crucial protective shield that shields the Earth from harmful UV rays.

On the ground, the odorless gas can cause shortness of breath, burning eyes and trigger asthma attacks. It predisposes people to pneumonia and coronary damage. According to a study, in 2010 more than 1 million premature deaths worldwide were caused by high levels of ozone. Ozone and other pollutants can also increase the risk of hospitalization and death for people infected with Covid-19, according to a recent study.

Air pollution hits children, older adults and people who work outdoors hardest, and the impact is disproportionately hitting disadvantaged areas whose residents often do not have the funds to relocate to cleaner neighborhoods.

High ozone levels also cause severe damage and death to vegetation.

Changing the Front Range’s ozone violator status from “serious” to “serious” could have some implications, some experts said. One result is that refiners would need to produce a special blend of gasoline for cars in the nine Front Range counties that is less volatile and emits fewer precursors into the atmosphere. That could increase gas prices by 5% to 10%.

“We’re going to move from some of the highest-emitting gasoline engines to the lowest-emitting gasoline engines in the country,” Silverstein said. “It doesn’t evaporate if spilled on the ground and burns with fewer emissions. We’ll see the benefits of ozone emissions once it’s at the station.” That may not be until next year or 2024.

Another consequence is that hundreds of companies not covered by current regulations would fall under the scrutiny of regulators and be forced to account for their emissions.

The Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups are suing the EPA in an effort to enforce a “strict” ozone rating for the Front Range and other parts of the United States. The lawsuit was filed prior to the EPA’s reclassification proposal.

Center for Biological Diversity attorney Robert Ukeiley believes the status change will make a difference.

“If we are upgraded from ‘serious’ to ‘serious’, it will lower the pollution threshold of what is considered the main source,” he said. “The state should have to issue permits for large wells and that will start to reduce pollution.”

— Kaiser Health News is a national health news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente. Colorado’s Efforts Not Enough To Solve Ozone Problem, Experts Say – Greeley Tribune

James Brien

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