One good thing from the COVID-19 lockdown: Cleaner air in Denver?

Posted at 3:32 PM, Mar 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-01 10:47:08-04

DENVER — You may have noticed the air around the Mile High City is a little cleaner. The skyline is visible from several miles away instead of it being shrouded by a thick layer of smog.

Our reprieve from the brown cloud could be due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Instead, more specifically, the limitations placed on us because of the epidemic.

With fewer cars driving around, commerce and human activity, the city is seeing fewer pollutants in the air. But the Air Pollution Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said they would need more long-term data before any conclusions can be made.

Officials with the CDPHE said they see a significant decline in levels of nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter in the air we breathe.

Samples taking from several different air monitoring sites in the Denver area show PM2.5 concentrations (particulate matter) are down between 36-49 percent from this same time last year. And PM10 levels are down 29 to 41 percent in the north Denver area, according to the CDPHE.

Officials said because ozone season does not typically start until June, it is too early to assess the effects of the current public health situation on ozone.

Also, satellite sensing of nitrogen dioxide levels in Los Angeles, New York, China and the United Kingdom show decreases. However, those measurements aren’t the most reliable to go by since they don’t provide ground-level concentrations to which people are exposed, officials said.

The CDPHE said attempting to predict or formally model the long-term air quality impacts of this crisis is difficult, premature, and not its current priority. They said they have a network of air monitors throughout the state and will continue to monitor them because COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, and air quality is more important now than ever.