Denver, CO – Denver-Aurora-Lakewood , home to nearly three-million people, suffered through 131 days of poor air quality due to air pollution in 2018, according to a new report from Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group and Colorado PIRG Education Fund. Statistics from 2018 represent the most recent data available. Air pollution increases the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts.
“No Coloradan should have to experience one day of polluted air -- let alone 131, ” said Eric Timlin, Campaign Organizer with Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center. “Air quality will only get worse as our climate warms, so we have no time to lose. We must make progress toward clean air.”
For the report, Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathed Polluted Air in 2018, researchers reviewed Environmental Protection Agency air pollution records from across the country. The report focuses on ground-level ozone and fine particulate pollution, which are harmful pollutants that come from wildfires, and burning fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, gasoline, natural gas and from other sources.
Table A1. Days with elevated ozone, particulates and total pollution, by geographic area, 2018 (PM2.5 refers to fine particulate pollution smaller than 2.5 micrometers)
“I am very concerned about the state of the air along the Front Range, not only because of the health of my own family, but also because of the countless children that I have worked with in schools,” said Christy Haas-Howard, an Asthma Nurse Specialist. “I have seen how children with asthma suffer when they are exposed to a trigger like poor air quality. It is so hard to see a child being led into the health office from the playground because their airways are tightening up. Our children should be playing at recess, enjoying the outdoors with their friends, not sitting in the school health office struggling to breathe.”
“Clean air is not a prescription any physician can write, yet it is a much needed treatment," said Dr. Neelima Tummala, clinical assistant professor of surgery at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. "While the profound consequences on human health are alarming, what gives me hope is that studies show that improved air quality can mitigate these health effects." Dr. Tummala noted, for example, that studies show that a long-term improvement in air quality can lead to improved lung function in children and decreased incidence of asthma.
The report’s troubling findings come at a time when the federal government is further endangering air quality by dismantling protections under the Clean Air Act.
“The data show that America’s existing air quality standards aren’t doing enough to protect our health,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, Policy Analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. "As the climate warms, higher temperatures and more severe wildfires increase air pollution and the threat to human health."
Recommendations in the report include calling on policymakers at all levels of government to reduce emissions from transportation, support clean renewable energy, and expand climate-friendly transportation options with more transit, bike lanes and walkways. The study also calls on the federal government to strengthen ozone and particulate pollution standards, and support strong clean car standards instead of rolling them back.
“Instead of undermining clean air protections, Senator Gardner should be taking every opportunity to clean up the air we breathe,” said Timlin. “Since transportation is the most polluting sector of our economy, we need to transition to electric cars, buses and transit.”
Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment. For more information, visit www.environmentcoloradocenter.org.