Beaulieu: Fort Collins’ ozone does not discriminate against the healthy

Mack Beaulieu

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board. 

There’s something a bit cathartic about the first breath of fresh air on a beautiful Colorado day. Lately, the air has not been so fresh. 

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Fort Collins is known for its picturesque landscape, mountain trails, and easy bike-ability, but all those things are slightly misdirected. Fort Collins

CSU student Laura Hodges volunteering for the CSU chapter of Defend Our Future

has the 15th worst ozone pollution in the country, according to the American Lung association. Not being aware of ozone levels is risky. Maintaining an active lifestyle is important. But, if we wish to continue to enjoy the outdoors, we must act to reverse the detrimental effects of pollution. After all, avoiding the outdoors altogether is not an option. 

“Defend Our Future,” a Colorado State University student group working towards solutions to solving climate change, is an important figure in the fight for a healthy environment. Groups like this focus on getting grass-roots support to be heard at the government level, especially for problems like ozone that aren’t obvious in every day life.

“I’m from right outside of Chicago,” explains CSU Defend Our Future President, Brooke Sayre-Chavez, “…the air here seems cleaner and doesn’t smell weird, but it’s surprising that the air quality is what it is.” 

Breathing in our air is bad for anyone, but some groups are more at risk. Those with respiratory problems, the elderly and the more outdoorsy are among groups at higher risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those who do more activities outside are more negatively affected by the high ozone levels as well. 

One CSU study found that people who bike to work are up to three times more exposed to harmful volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). These VOC’s are bad for you on their own, but are especially so when they mix with nitrogen to produce ground level ozone. Ozone has a negative effect on your lungs and heart. Bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, and pulmonary disease are the most commonly mentioned heart and respiratory issues associated with ozone levels. However, ozone is highly suspected to affect cancer rates and the Environmental Protection Agency has found a large link to mortality rates.

“The ozone-mortality relationship was robust even after controlling for possible effects of particulate matter and other air pollutants,” says the Environmental Protection Agency.  This pretty much eliminates any comfort one might receive from knowing that Fort Collins doesn’t rank particularly bad in those other categories.

It is hard to believe that the air in our area could be so bad, but it’s easy to forget that fracking is a staple in Colorado. It may be the biggest threat, because fracking emits so much methane, a major greenhouse gas, and also because it emits VOC’s.

Dr. Jeff Collett, a professor of atmospheric science at CSU, conducted a study last year on the amount of methane and VOC’s being emitted by fields in the Front Range. The examination of the study from a health standpoint is now being conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), according to Collett in an email to the Collegian.

According to Collett’s email, “These studies were fairly novel in looking quantitatively at emissions of VOC’s… The ongoing health study will quantify risks of those emissions; it is too early to guess the outcome. ”

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What we do know is that fracking emits methane and other VOC’s. We know that methane helps put large holes in the ozone layer and we know that VOC’s combine with nitrogen to create ozone, so the effects of fracking on our health in regards to air pollution seems pretty obvious.

It’s frustrating because air pollution isn’t something that most of us can take significant action on, but you can limit production and limit your exposure. The most effective way may be to bike and ride the bus to where you need to go. Riding through the busy parts of town will save you some ozone intake and exploring more scenic bike routes will likely save you some as well. Another thing you can do is speak out, and speak up.

“The best thing you can do is just call your senator,” said Sayre-Chavez.

Action is important. We have to act and get our government to do so as well. If not, all of our healthy lifestyles may actually be working against us.

Mackenzie Beaulieu can be reached at letters@collegian and online at @Mack_enzie_James