Daily Camera (Boulder)
Virus orders did not help air quality
Boulder County did not see a significant reduction in pollution at the height of coronavirus stay-athome orders in April, according to data presented Thursday to the Board of Commissioners by air quality researcher Detlev Helmig.
Helmig presented data collected by his company, Boulder AIR, at five monitoring stations — the Boulder Reservoir, Longmont Union Reservoir, Longmont Municipal Airport and in Broomfield near the Livingston extraction pad and near Soaring Eagle Park.
The data for 2020 is preliminary, Helmig said, but he doesn’t anticipate there will be big changes in the numbers after additional analysis.
Different air quality monitors track different kinds of pollutants, including nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds and ozone. The emphasis of Boulder County’s monitoring program is to track pollutants related to oil and gas operations, Helmig said.
He gave commissioners a look at April pollutant levels for the past three years,
which showed that 2020 did not see significant drops in ethane, propane, benzene, nitrogen oxides or ozone despite fewer people driving during stay-at-home orders.
“You could argue that April 2020 was a little bit lower, but it wouldn’t be statistically defensible at all,” Helmig said. “It doesn’t look that much different from 2017.”
It’s also difficult to evaluate because of year-to-year variability and seasonal changes, he said.
Commissioner Matt Jones said he wasn’t surprised by the April data.
“We receive a lot of pollutants from Weld County and the oil and gas wells there, and that makes our air quality a lot worse,” Jones said.
The county uses air quality data to lobby state lawmakers to tighten rules on oil and gas producers, he said.
“I think the state needs to have a lot, lot stronger rules,” Jones said. “They need to make sure that oil and gas does so much more to contain their pollution.”
The county also saw spikes in particulate matter connected to local and national wildfires, and several days of particulate matter exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s 24-hour health standard. However, Helmig said, air quality monitors did not pick up similar spikes in ozone levels.
Helmig also drew attention to a July 10 event when sudden wind changes caused ozone levels to drop quickly, and then rise again. Helmig said this shows how much ozone that’s coming in from other regions, compared to what’s produced locally.
“The levels we see mostly originate in our own backyard,” he said.
Boulder AIR is also now posting almost real-time data on air quality for Boulder, Longmont and Broomfield, Helmig said. That can be viewed at bouldair.com/ Nocofrontrange.htm.