Mesa County begins its air quality campaign

More than nine months have passed, but residents won’t soon forget a stubborn inversion last winter that trapped a layer of toxic air over the Grand Valley.

At the time, the Grand Valley reached a record of 47 days in which residents were urged by Mesa County not to heat their homes with fireplaces and antiquated woodstoves, two factors that contribute to poor air quality.

Air quality was so bad for a time last year, that it registered as the dirtiest air in the state.

In an effort to help curb bad air, Mesa County is reinstating its wintertime air quality program, called the Western Slope Air Watch.

The program asks residents to refrain from using woodstoves and fireplaces on days when an inversion is present, when air gets trapped in the Grand Valley. Inversions typically occur November through January, said Ed Brotsky, air quality specialist for the Mesa County Health Department.

“More involvement is key,” Brotsky said. “In general we want to raise the air quality knowledge level of citizens. Last winter was pretty severe and a lot of people want to do something about it.”

From today until the end of February, the health department will release advisories, on at least a weekly basis. Days in which wood smoke will contribute to an inversion will be labeled “no-burn” days.

Residents can keep air pollutants in check in additional ways by refraining from idling vehicles, combining vehicle trips, carpooling and using alternative forms of transportation such as riding a bus, walking and riding a bicycle.

No-burn warnings are issued when it appears the air quality is worsening, which is different than measurements defined by the Environmental Protection Agency. The bans are instated on older model wood stoves, generally those older than 1988, in the city limits of Grand Junction and Fruita. Burning with a non EPA-approved stove outside of these areas in Mesa County is discouraged, but it is not banned.

Anyone burning in the older style wood stoves is subject to a citation, but the process is complaint-driven so it’s unlikely anyone would be cited.

Last winter’s persistent inversion prompted the creation of a grassroots group of about 30 residents called Citizens for Clean Air.

Members work to keep the issue of clean air in the forefront. Member Benita Phillips said she was motivated to join the group because she fell ill from the extended period of bad air.

“When (the group’s chairwoman) Karen (Sjoberg) started pushing for this, I couldn’t see not jumping in and helping,” she said.

For more information on Mesa County’s air quality program, visit the Mesa County’s Health Department website at mesacounty.org, and search for the environmental health services page.



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