Denver Metro region has experienced 129 days of polluted air in 2020

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Wildfire smoke settles over downtown Denver on July 13, 2021. (KDVR)

DENVER– The Denver-Aurora-Lakewood metro area, home to 2,991,231 people, suffered through 129 days of elevated air pollution in 2020, according to a new report from Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center and other foundations.

Air pollution increases the risk of premature death, asthma attacks, cancer and other kinds of adverse health impacts.

“Even one day of breathing in polluted air is dangerous for our health,” said Rex Wilmouth, senior program director of Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center. “129 days is unacceptable, and we need to do more to deliver cleaner air for our communities.” 

In the report Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathed Polluted Air in 2020, researchers reviewed Environmental Protection Agency air pollution records from across the country. The analysis, which looks at the most recent data available, focuses on ground-level ozone and fine particulate pollution.

Days with elevated ozone, particulates and total pollution, by geographic area, 2020

Researchers also produced a digital map of bad air days across the country in 2020. With the COVID pandemic in full swing, last year included periods in which people spent more time at home and drove their gas-powered vehicles less — yet bad air quality persisted. 

“One of the top sources of air pollution is transportation,” Wilmouth said. “As our driving has picked up in 2021, you can be sure our vehicle pollution has kept pace. If we want to make a dent in these terrible numbers and save lives, we have got to wean ourselves off of burning fossil fuels to get around.”

As far as solutions, the report recommends that policymakers electrify our buildings, equipment and transportation, transition to clean renewable energy and strengthen federal air quality standards.

Congress is considering a bipartisan infrastructure bill that will fund cleaner transportation projects like $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations.

“When the health of a family member is threatened, we do what it takes to save them,”  Wilmouth said. “Every child, grandparent and Coloradans should be able to breathe clean air. Our leaders need to act swiftly to zero out pollution from all aspects of our lives. When they do, we’ll all breathe easier.”

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