Air quality in Grand County, across Colorado remains cause for concern due to wildfire smoke, officials warn |

Air quality in Grand County, across Colorado remains cause for concern due to wildfire smoke, officials warn

A smoky haze blocks views of the mountains on the horizon in Winter Park on Friday.
Bryce Martin /

Air quality in Grand County took a downward turn in recent weeks with wildfires raging across Colorado causing a potential health hazard for local citizens. Earlier this week, however, officials saw improvement in local air quality, leading to an upgrade in air quality level to “good.” That improvement was short lived, though, as on Tuesday officials said air quality in Grand County was once again listed as “moderate.”

The Grand County Public Health Department issued an air quality advisory last week for Grand County after an air quality monitor in Kremmling revealed a deterioration in local air quality. County officials said health risks related to air quality in Middle Park were listed as “moderate” as of last Thursday.

Earlier this week, despite smoke still in the air and an advisory still in place, Grand County’s air quality level was adjusted to reflect an improvement in conditions across the region. It was rated as “good” as of Monday afternoon. By Tuesday morning though air quality had once again deteriorated in Grand County and officials confirmed shortly after noon that Grand County’s air quality was downgraded to “moderate”.

“(Air quality) fluctuates a lot depending on many factors including rain, wind, fire activity, jet stream, and time of day,” said Brene Belew-LaDue, director of Grand County Public Health. “It also depends on where the monitor is placed.”

Belew-LaDue noted a single air quality monitor had been placed in Kremmling, but recommended citizens gauge overall air quality by simply looking outside and viewing the current conditions. The air quality monitor was placed in Grand County because of the ongoing fires in the region, which prompted concerns over potential air quality changes.

According to Belew-LaDue, air quality is not typically monitored in Grand County, but when it is the Air Quality Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment conducts the work. This year is not the first that Grand County has issued an air quality advisory to the public as Belew-LaDue said several such advisories have been issued in recent years, all connected to wildfires in the area or the broader western United States.

The state of Colorado designates air quality risk levels using the EPA’s Air Quality Index Scale. The scale includes six different levels ranging from the lowest risk level, “good” to the highest risk level of “hazardous.” Moderate is the second step on the scale, just above “good.” According to information provided by the state, visibility under “good” conditions will be up to 10 miles or more.

Visibility under “moderate” conditions, like Grand County experienced last week, should be somewhere between five and 10 miles. Visibility under the worst air quality category will be one mile or less.

Public health officials recommend staying indoors if smoke is or becomes thick in your area, especially true for those with heart disease, respiratory illnesses, the very young, and the elderly, Belew-LaDue explained.

If smoke in a given area reduces visibility to less than five miles, conditions are considered “unhealthy” by health officials. If such conditions exist, limiting outdoor activity should be considered. If smoke is present indoors and making you ill consider relocating to a different area.

According to the state, the population groups most at risk under degraded air quality are the elderly, young children — especially those age seven or younger — pregnant women, people with pre-existing respiratory or circulatory conditions such as asthma or COPD, people with respiratory infections such as cold or flu, and people with smoke allergies.

The smoke haze that has been filling skies across Colorado in recent weeks contains a mix of various chemical components ranging from particulate matter and carbon monoxide to organic compounds such as polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, which state officials said may be carcinogenic with extended exposure.

Courtesy National Weather Service

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