North Denver has long been the subject of various air quality monitoring programs because of its proximity to industrial, freeway and construction zones that increase air pollution emissions and odors. These pollutants are linked to asthma, lung cancer and other health risks.
Denver is now expanding monitoring with a multi-year effort to better understand and identify sources of pollution. The city will focus these efforts in North Denver, including areas both west and east of I-25 along the I-70 corridor.
The effort includes deployment of new technology to identify additional pollutants, such as black carbon or soot and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), additional data analysis, and more detailed tracking of odor complaints, to better discern mobile versus industrial sources contributing to air pollution.
“As residential development expands along Brighton Blvd. and the South Platte River valley, we must expand our understanding of air quality to improve the quality of life for those who live in these disproportionately impacted neighborhoods,” said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. “This data will help inform future policy decisions that protect our environment.”
The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) and Denver Department of Public Health & Environment (DDPHE) have multiple monitoring stations in North Denver that have existed for years.
There are compliance grade monitoring sites at La Casa/Quigg Newton Family Health Center, 4545 Navajo St., and I-25 at West 49th Avenue, These stations measure a variety of pollutants, including particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, temperature, humidity and winds. They cost upward of $250,000 each and have annual operation and maintenance costs of up to $100,000.
The Colorado Department of Transportation and City of Denver are also monitoring air quality resulting from the I-70 construction project at the Swansea Air Monitoring Station.
Denver also has a number of low cost sensor locations that cost roughly $1,000 each and are used primarily for measuring particulate matter, temperature and humidity. These are currently located at four schools, all east of I-25, that are part of the Love My Air Denver program (LoveMyAirDenver.com), started last year. This nationally recognized effort is focused on monitoring fine particulate matter near schools through a formal partnership with Denver Public Schools. The program is funded through 2021 by the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge.
New in 2020
The City is expanding the school program and evaluating more pollutants installing additional low cost sensors at Columbian Elementary, 2925 W. 40th Ave., in Sunnyside, and an additional school in Montbello in 2020.
In addition, the City received a grant to partner with a local air quality sensor manufacturer to deploy mid-tier compliance grade technology at five locations to measure multiple pollutants. The City has not identified those locations yet.
Environment Quality Division Director Gregg Thomas said the City hopes the technology can be used to calibrate vehicle mounted sensors in the future. He said DDPHE will be testing real time high resolution air monitoring that can be attached to vehicles with readings available within seconds.
His team is also looking to pilot a “grab sampling” program that can target certain air pollutants that contribute to odor under certain meteorological conditions.
Most importantly, DDPHE is developing a user-friendly interface to make sure that all the data collected is accessible to the public. In the interim, DDPHE provides data summary reports through its website.
Through teamwork at the federal, state and local levels, Denver says it has “made great strides in reducing air pollution over the past 30 years.” A DDPHE press release states that despite Denver county’s population growing more than 50 percent and vehicle miles traveled having doubled since 1990:
- Carbon monoxide was reduced by more than 80 percent.
- Sulfur dioxide was reduced more than 90 percent.
- Nitrogen dioxode was reduced 50 percent.
- Fine particulate matter was reduced more than 35 percent.
- Hazardous air pollutants like benzene were reduced by 90 percent.
Yet, the City acknowledges that ozone and pollutants that lead to its formation still pose major air quality challenges for Denver.
DDPHE asks community members to report if you experience pollution or odor concerns by calling 311.