June 8, 2008

Ozone Season Kicks Off With High Ozone

It's going to be a tough summer for our health.

Last Sunday, June 1st, kicked off the "ozone season," meaning state and local health officials are going to start issuing alerts whenever ozone pollution reaches unhealthy highs. Ozone, a corrosive gas, forms when air pollution from smokestacks and tailpipes react with sunlight.

The timing was a bit late. On May 31st, ozone levels in the Denver metro area soared above the current health standard, which limits ozone to no more than 75 parts per billion over an eight hour period. Last Saturday, ozone levels reached 79 parts per billion at Rocky Flats and 77 in Boulder.

Not only that, but on May 24th and 25th, ozone reached unhealthy highs in Colorado Springs. This was all before the start of the official "ozone season."

These high ozone levels aren't surprising. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently adopted stronger standards limiting ozone to keep communities nationwide healthy and safe, although these standards fell short of what was recommended by the agency's own science advisers.

While we're not surprised though, we're not pessimistic. Sure, we agree with state health official that we're in for a challenge, but this a challenge we can meet. The Regional Air Quality Council itself has recognized this. They've set a goal of meeting the EPA's new ozone standard of 75 parts per billion, an unprecedented step forward since states aren't even required to meet the new standards until after 2011.

But the challenge will be easier to meet than we think. There are a number of strategies to reduce ozone that have yet to be adopted, including stronger limits on pollution from oil and gas drilling, lower volatility gasoline, and cuts in pollution from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants. These strategies and many more are detailed in The Path Forward, a report prepared by a coalition of environmental groups and local governments detailing the many cost-effective ways to reduce ozone in the Denver metro area.

With high ozone kicking off the ozone season, it's time to aggressively meet the challenge of safeguarding public health. It may be tough to meet stronger ozone standards, but compared to the difficulty of breathing polluted, unhealthy air, it'll be easier than we think.

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