The Air We Breathe

Mindfulness, Responsibility, Respect

It’s a delight to call the Roaring Fork Valley home. We enjoy beautiful vistas, a plethora of outdoor activities, and excellent community events. Our love of the outdoors generally comes with an appreciation for a clean environment and a healthy place to live. However, we often don’t pause to think about how our daily activities can impact air quality, both locally and globally.

As air quality program coordinator for Garfield County Public Health, I try to practice what I preach and walk or bike to work, and it’s really a gift to live close enough to my office to be able to do so. The days I spend not using my car help me feel healthier and happier about my reduced contribution to air pollution. But often in this valley, reducing driving can seem like an impossible proposition. Many people have to drive out of town for work, have to drop kids off at activities or have errands to run, and so on.

Some of us may be sheltered from the impacts of the Grand Avenue Bridge construction, but nearly everyone will experience them to some degree as we head into August. A 25 percent reduction in vehicle traffic will be needed to limit substantial delays on the detour during the approximately three-month period without a Grand Avenue Bridge. That means we’ll have to get 400 to 600 vehicles off the road per hour during peak times (6 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.). This is a great time to consider how to make changes in your life to limit driving. Can you bike or walk with your kids to school? Set up a carpool or vanpool with co-workers? Adjust your work schedule to avoid peak times? Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) will also be expanding its bus services to offer greater frequency of downvalley buses and extended routes to Parachute. We hope you’ll enjoy the benefits these actions produce and then consider utilizing them long-term.

Aside from the bridge construction, there are numerous changes we can all make to reduce air pollution in our community. Vehicle idling can contribute significantly more emissions than you might think: just one minute produces more carbon monoxide than the smoke from three packs of cigarettes, and leads to more wear-and-tear on your vehicle than turning the engine off and starting it again. A home energy audit can reduce energy consumption and save money on heating and cooling costs. Cleaning products and other chemicals can also be a source of air pollution and often have safer alternatives.

Smoke from fires can also impact air quality. Wood-burning stoves can provide a fairly cheap and efficient way to heat homes, but improper burning techniques or the use of an older, non-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certified stove can be a major source of localized air pollution. Open burning of slash piles and woody materials should only be done with the proper permits, and burning trash is never allowed.

Garfield County operates an extensive air monitoring network that looks at a variety of outdoor air pollutants, including real-time monitoring for ozone and particulate matter such as dust and smoke. If you ever notice a haze or odors in the air, you can find up-to-date air status information by searching “Garfield County Air Quality” online. It’s rare that Garfield County air is downgraded from the “Good” classification of the EPA’s Air Quality Index, but if it is, sensitive groups such as those with respiratory conditions, the elderly, and the very young may want to limit outdoor activities.

Steps taken by one unique individual or business to reduce air pollution may seem like a small thing, but with the actions of many we can all breathe cleaner air.

Morgan Hill is a western Colorado native and outdoor enthusiast in the Roaring Fork Valley. She has been an environmental health specialist at Garfield County Public Health for over five years.