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Denver's air quality is getting worse because of climate change, population growth: Report

According to the American Lung Association's State of the Air report for Denver, warmer temperatures brought on by climate change — and an increase in population — have lowered the city's air quality.
Haze in Denver (1/8/17)

DENVER — Denver's air is getting worse and it's thanks to all the transplants and climate change, according to a new report from the American Lung Association released Wednesday.

The Queen City of the Plains is the 12th most polluted in the country for ozone, according to the report. Los Angeles is the most ozone-polluted American city. Fort Collins ranks as the 24th most polluted city in the country.

The vast majority of Colorado counties, excluding far-southwestern counties, also scored poorly on the State of the Air report: almost all received "F" grades on their air quality report card.

You can find the quality of your county or state by following this link and choosing your state from the drop-down menu.

The report covers the most recent quality-assured data from states, counties, cities, tribes and federal agencies from 2015-2017 — the three hottest years in global history, according to the American Lung Association.

When compared to the 2018 report, the 2019 air quality report for Denver shows the air getting worse, with more days of unhealthy ozone levels than before.

Ozone causes something like a sunburn in our lungs when we breath it in, the association says. According to JoAnna Strother, the American Lung Association director of advocacy, ozone is especially bad for children, older adults and those with asthma or other breathing conditions.

She acknowledged Denver's population increase likely attributed to the increase in ozone seen in the report. 

"More population means more people driving on freeways," Strother said. "Vehicle emissions certainly adds to ozone. And in Denver, we did see more days when ozone levels were high or at a dangerous level."

The report, however, focuses on climate change as the principal culprit for our poor air in Denver. Strother said the report is seen by the American Lung Association as a wakeup call to the Trump administration and Congress: Protect the Clean Air Act and do something about climate change.

"The past three years have been the warmest in global heat," Strother said. "We do know that climate change is real and does have an effect on our air quality."

It's not all doom and gloom, however. Particle pollution (caused by diesel engines, coal plants, wildfires — that sort of thing) is down in the Mile High City. Denver had fewer days of unhealthy particle pollution in 2019 when compared to the 2018 report, according to the American Lung Association.

To view the full report, head over to this link.

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