BOULDER COUNTY, CO — June 1 marked the official start to the high ozone season in Denver's metro area and Boulder; however, air quality alerts were issued in May.
Ozone action day alerts warn Coloradans that hot and sunny weather will lead to ozone concentrations that reach unhealthy levels, which can impact anyone with a respiratory condition, Boulder County Public Health said.
The American Lung Association gave Boulder County an “F” for high levels of ozone, an "invisible pollutant that attacks our lungs and makes individuals more susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19," public health officials said.
Collin Tomb, Boulder County Public Health's Air and Climate Team Lead, said there was an improvement in air quality during the state's stay-at-home order. But she said that's changing.
“The move to some people returning to the office may make those improvements short-lived," Tomb said in a statement. "Air pollutants from vehicles, together with those associated with the extraction, burning, and manufacturing of fossil fuels, are the cause of our especially high ozone.”
Ozone levels in the Denver metro and north Front Range area are above the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ground-level ozone, which are set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Air Act.
Breathing ground-level ozone can cause symptoms such as coughing, throat irritation, pain, burning, tightness or discomfort in the chest, and wheezing or shortness of breath, Boulder County health officials warned. Long-term exposure to ozone causes more frequent and severe asthma attacks, increased hospitalizations, and higher rates of illness and death.
“On a larger scale, ozone is a greenhouse gas that hastens climate change, which worsens ozone pollution, thus creating a cyclical relationship between ozone and the climate crisis,” said Cindy Copeland, Boulder County Public Health Air and Climate Policy Specialist.
“Communities that are already experiencing higher rates of infection and disruption from COVID-19 in Boulder County are also more vulnerable to the other negative health impacts of air pollution and ultimately suffer more from climate change.”
Anyone concerned about the impacts of ozone pollution on health or the climate can offer feedback at a virtual public hearing at the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission. The meeting will be held at 9 a.m. on June 18.