Excessive ozone in the Denver Metro and North Front Range region during the summer may lead to further restrictions on emissions of ozone-generating precursor compounds from industry, automobiles and even gasoline-powered lawn equipment (RAQC), according to a new draft report from the Regional Air Quality Council.
The high temperatures, intense solar radiation and persistent high-pressure systems that dampen the winds in summer cause precursors – volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as methane and nitrogen oxides (NOx) to be produced by motor vehicles and other combustion sources, including power plants in the linger in the region and be converted into ozone.
According to the report, some of the main sources of NOx and VOCs are emissions from industrial plants, power utilities, automobile and off-road vehicle exhaust, gasoline fumes, chemical solvents and even household chemicals.
Ozone exposure can cause respiratory diseases, particularly in children, older adults and people with respiratory diseases.
Curbing ozone-producing emissions could mean changing habits, such as B. driving habits, what people shop for in stores, and even the way homes are heated.
It could also involve raising gasoline prices to pay for a more expensive formulation that isn’t as prone to precursor compound emissions as California has been for some time.
Beginning in 1992, the California Air Resources Board required changes to gasoline formulas to reduce vapor emissions, remove lead, and otherwise make gasoline less harmful to the atmosphere. According to the CARB website, a 2003 report “showed that the benefits of the program were equivalent to removing 3.5 million vehicles from California’s roads.”
“We’re going to have more stringent consumer product requirements… Over time, we already have stringent consumer product requirements, but they need to be taken to the next level as an emergency measure,” RAQC executive director Mike Silverstein said during an online news conference Tuesday .
“Once things get serious, EPA regulations require reformulated gasoline to be introduced a year later, at the start of the next gasoline summer season, which typically begins in May of any year, so we would likely see reformulated gasoline in the summer of 2024 and Furthermore.”
David Sabados, RAQC’s communications director, told the Denver Gazette that he wasn’t sure how much more a reformulated gasoline — or RFG — might cost.
“There are many factors that go into gas prices, and to the best of our knowledge, the fuel industry has never provided an exact figure on RFG cost increases,” Sabados said. “I don’t have an exact quote, but an increase of 20-30 cents/gallon is likely given what we’ve seen in some other areas when trying to find numbers ourselves.”
State and local officials have long struggled to meet increasingly stringent EPA ozone standards, which were tightened several times between 1978 and 2008.
In 2018, the EPA downgraded the region from “moderate” to a “severe” noncompliance category, leading to revisions to the State Implementation Plan (SIP), which informs the EPA on how Colorado plans to meet ozone standards by 2027.
The region — made up of eight counties including Jefferson, Boulder, Larimer, Denver, Jefferson, Douglas, Arapahoe, Adams, and Weld — has had seasonal ozone issues for decades. It was declared a “failure region” in 1978 when ozone levels exceeded 120 parts per billion, the EPA’s 1978 national air quality standard.
In 2020, the EPA again classified the region as a “moderate non-achievement,” triggering another SIP for 2024.
Ground-level ozone is not emitted directly into the air. Rather, it is formed through complex chemical reactions between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and, to a lesser extent, carbon monoxide (CO) in the presence of sunlight, the report said.
According to Silverstein, the EPA doesn’t care where the precursors come from, even if they or ozone itself are pouring in from other states or even other countries, and that meeting air quality standards is important to the agency.
“Basically, we think we control about 25 to 30 percent of the ozone in our region,” Silverstein said. “And we are responsible for developing strategies for control.”
But Silverstein says we won’t get an exemption for natural emissions, except in exceptional circumstances like ozone from wildfires or the occasional blowing of ozone from the stratosphere into the Denver Basin. In this case, if the state can prove it, the EPA will overlook the violation.
One of the region’s problems is its topography and the fact that the majority of the volatile organic compounds that can contribute to the formation of ozone, more than 50% of the VOCs come from natural, uncontrollable “biogenic” sources, such as. B. Methane produced by decomposition in wetlands and lakes.
“It’s part of the ozone situation,” Silverstein said. “Other areas have the same or even higher biogenic emissions, but they meet the standard because they either have better meteorology (weather) or do not include air pollutants in the region due to the terrain or the unique characteristics we have in our front range. But you can’t get a passport from the EPA.”
Comments on the draft report can be submitted in writing to RAQC by July 27. If you would like to share your comments personally, please register for the August 5 Zoom board meeting and opt-in to public comment by emailing Misty Howell [email protected]
Visit the RAQC website for more information