Concerns About Air Quality in Boulder County

Thursday morning at History Colorado in Denver, a group of researchers, policy experts and public health advocates met to discuss the connection between air quality, climate and public health. Another panel will convene in Longmont later in the day to specifically discuss air quality in Boulder County.

KGNU’s Maeve Conran spoke with Detlev Helmig who is participating in both events. Helmig, a fellow and associate research professor at the Institute of Alpine and Arctic Research at the University of Colorado Boulder, has been monitoring air quality at the Boulder Reservoir for 3 years.

 Listen to the interview below: 

According to Helmig, there are challenges to preserving air quality in Boulder County due to the way air moves. While Boulder is working to impose tighter regulation on fracking, its neighbor to the east, Weld County, is the most fracked county in the state.

“What we’ve seen very clearly is that concentrations for both ozone and ozone precursors peak, reach consistently the highest levels, when we see air transferred from the north to about the southeast, that northeast sector.”

Weld County, the epicenter of oil and gas development in state and Boulder’s neighboring county, is impacting air quality. Helmig says their data can pinpoint what’s causing the pollution detected at the reservoir testing site.

“There are some tracers that we apply to this data that give us a pretty convincing case suggesting that the primary sources for these elevated VOCs sad the elevated ozone we see is associated to that oil and gas source region.”

When asked about the connection between air quality and climate change Helmig said the two are closely tied.

Helmig says considering ozone is the third-ranked gas forcing climate change, locals should considering what impact the gas is having more broadly.

“The ozone that’s being produced here, besides impacting air quality and being a concern in terms of health impacts, It’s also a contributing climate forcer that’s driving a tenth or so of the global warming we are seeing on a global scale.”

Just how Boulder County can address oil and gas-related air pollution form a neighboring county remains unclear but Helmig feels there should be a regional approach. “The most efficient way to tackle the ozone pollution problem is to aggressively reduce ozone precursor emissions not just on a city or county scale but for the entire front range region.”

In addition to Thursday morning’s event in Denver, Detlev Helmig will be speaking specifically about air quality in Longmont at an event Thursday evening co-hosted by the Longmont Sunrise Movement and Sustainable Resilient Longmont. During the event former State Senator Mike Foote, Joseph Salazar, the Executive Director of Colorado Rising, and Detlev Helmig will discuss ozone and other air pollutants in Boulder County that have been linked to oil and gas development.

Event Details:

What is In Our Air? The Path to Clean Air in Longmont
Sunset Middle School Cafeteria, 1300 South Sunset St.
Thursday, January 16, 2020
6:30 – 8:30 pm