Boulder County residents have been keeping a close eye on a website hosted by INSTAAR, which tracks levels of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, in the air at the Boulder Reservoir. VOCs that have been recorded include chemicals like methane and butane, which are harmful to our environment, as well as chemicals like benzene, which is a known carcinogen for humans. Dr. Detlev Helmig, a research scientist at INSTAAR and lead investigator of the project, will be discussing his findings on Wednesday November 28th at an event in Longmont.
“We set up a system that runs automated around the clock… So this gives us a continuous record, and by doing that we were able to get much more insight into the variability of concentration changes in the atmosphere, and we learned that that variability in this region is enormous.”
The data that has been accumulated at the site is the largest and most reliable data set of its kind in the state. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment does some air monitoring around the state, but nothing at this scale.
The website gives real-time updates and graph data for a multitude of VOCs, with access to all monthly data going back to February of 2017. The data shows extreme spikes and falls of VOCs at the Boulder reservoir, often depending on wind direction and speed. A major cause, Dr.Helmig says, is the oil and gas activity coming from Weld County, Boulder’s neighboring county to the east.
“We don’t see large ethane increases when we get wind flows from urban areas, but we see these spikes… Increases that go to a factor of 20, 30, or in extreme cases 100 times higher, and we only see these during transports in areas when we have flows from the east, where the oil and gas and development regions are.”
Colorado’s Front Range consistently falls below accepted federal standards for ozone and Boulder ranks in the top 3 of a list of 28 large cities in terms of hydro-carbons that have been detected in the air. Other cities in the list include New York, Phoenix and Los Angeles.
The event to discuss air quality in Boulder County happens Wednesday, November 28, 2018, from 6:30-8:30 pm at Front Range Community College, Community Room, 2121 Miller Drive, Door C4, Longmont. After the talk, there will be a discussion led by council member Joan Peck on the effect of gas and oil fracking on air quality in and around Boulder and Longmont and proposed efforts to monitor air quality at Union Reservoir in Longmont.