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Denver’s air quality is worsening; city health officials want to change that

Author: Adam McCoy - August 16, 2018 - Updated: August 30, 2018

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Air pollution over Denver in an undated photo. (iStock/Getty Images)

With metro Denver’s economic boom, attracting droves of new residents and sparking a cosmetic facelift of sorts, the city’s air quality has suffered.

In fact, the Mile High City’s air quality ranks among the worst in the nation among major cities, according to an American Lung Association report.

And the recent spate of wildfires across the West isn’t helping matters.

However, city leaders hope a new Denver Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE) monitoring program will help move the needle on air quality.

That Lung Association report places Denver at 14th out of 227 metropolitan areas for high ozone days; 24th out of 201 metro areas for 24-hour particle pollution; and 63th out of 187 metro areas for annual particle pollution.

Denver officials point to increased traffic and construction as drivers for increased pollution, and smoke from western wildfires drifting east is often a contributing factor to poor air quality.

DDPHE is banking on new monitoring systems to help generate real-time, air quality readings — data that in turn can be used to guide policy decisions and reduce pollution.

The department said it would also help improve air quality through efforts like reducing idling school buses which it says “would be the same as taking 5 million vehicles off the roads” and encouraging “walking” school buses, where a group of students would walk to school with adults.

The city notes while air pollution harms everyone, children are “more susceptible to its acute and long-term health effects, including decreased lung function, increased respiratory infections,” the DDPHE said in a statement.

“Children get just one chance to grow a healthy set of lungs, which means that addressing the issues surrounding asthma at the earliest grades can go a long way toward mitigating the effects of poor air quality,” the department continued. “Non-asthmatic children are also at serious risk for developing asthma and respiratory-related problems, but only 53 percent of Denver metro-area residents realize the health and environmental impacts of poor air quality.”

The DDPHE made use of a grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Initiative — which named Denver one of 35 cities eligible to compete for further grants as part of the 2018 Mayors Challenge — to help launch the monitoring systems.

Adam McCoy

Adam McCoy

Adam McCoy covers Denver-area politics for Colorado Politics.