Watch CBS News

Study Says Denver Area Ozone Pollutes Rocky Mountain National Park

By Chris Spears

DENVER (CBS4) - Remember all those low flying airplanes along the Front Range in the summer of 2014?

Sometimes they'd buzz overhead as low as 1,000 feet as part of a joint study between NASA and Boulder's National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Ozone aircraft
Scientists from NASA will be flying over Colorado testing the ozone. (credit: CBS)

The planes were collecting important information about ozone to pair with data collected at the ground.

RELATED: Hundreds Tour NCAR Planes Studying Front Range Air Quality

RELATED: Low-Flying Planes Along Front Range Studying Air Pollutants

Ozone can form at any time but is a particularly big problem during the summer months. This is not the good ozone found high in the stratosphere, which protects us from the harmful rays of the sun. The ozone we're talking about is man made and forms at the ground.

Ground-level ozone is an invisible gas that forms when pollutants such as exhaust from vehicles and gas-powered lawn equipment, factory smoke, and fumes from painting, staining or overfilling a gas tank cook in the summer heat.

Once it forms it pools near the ground and is a major problem on clear, hot, dry days with little wind during the afternoon.

High levels of ozone can be unhealthy for children, the elderly or those with respiratory issues. It can also be damaging to crops and other types of vegetation.

(credit: CBS)

We now know the results of the 2014 study and it includes...

  • oil & gas operations along with motor vehicles are the two largest local contributors to ozone formation
  • unhealthy levels of ozone produced along the Front Range Urban Corridor (between Colorado Springs, Denver, Boulder, Greeley and Fort Collins) can travel high into the foothills and mountains with surface winds, sometimes making it as far west as Rocky Mountain National Park
  • "We found that, on high ozone days, a critical portion of the ozone pollution here on the Front Range is the result of local activities, especially traffic and oil and gas operations," said NCAR scientist Gabriele Pfister, an author of the new report. "The pollution doesn't just affect the metro area. Prevailing daytime winds often transport the ozone to the west, exposing the foothills and mountains to high ozone levels."

    Data from the 2014 study will help the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as they work to reduce unhealthy levels of ozone along the Front Range.

    "The NCAR analysis provides important information that helps inform our ongoing efforts to better understand ozone formation and craft cost-effective strategies to reduce ozone levels and protect public health," said Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    Meteorologist Chris Spears travels weekly in the CBS4 Mobile Weather Lab reporting about Colorado's weather and climate. Check out his bio, connect with him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @ChrisCBS4.

    View CBS News In
    CBS News App Open
    Chrome Safari Continue
    Be the first to know
    Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.