Have you ever wondered about those emission tests you have to get for your car every year? Or why we rarely see the roads get graveled during the Winter months anymore? The answer to those questions and many others comes down to air quality.
To learn more about air quality a member of the ASCP was lucky enough to sit down with Mike Silverstein, the Executive Director of the Regional Air Quality Council, or RAQC for short.
RAQC has a board of directors appointed by the Governor of Colorado via Executive Order. Appointees come from all over the Northern Front Range region(about 9 counties). When asked about their function Silverstein explained, “Our primary focus is to develop air quality plans that bring the region, and keep the region, into compliance with air quality standards. These standards are set by the Environmental Protection Agency, they’re national standards.”
While we have the same standards nation-wide, Silverstein explained that “in our case most of our [RAQC’s] work centers around the ozone standards because we’re not in compliance with Federal ozone standards. We are in compliance with all the other standards and that’s fortunate. RACQ has led the efforts over the last 30 years to come into compliance with the carbon monoxide standards, particulate matter standards, and the ozone standard. The ozone standard though, has gotten more stringent. The research shows that the standard should be lower than past values because ozone at lower concentrations has a public health impact.”
So how does RAQC lead those efforts? It’s surprisingly similar to how the ASCP gets things done here on campus. They meet with stakeholders, get community input, come to a consensus and develop a strategic air quality plan for the region. That plan then gets presented to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission, a State Commission under the Department of Public Health and Environment, which then approves, denies, or modifies the plan and then puts those regulations into place.
These plans change and evolve as our air quality issues evolve, even seasonally! I was surprised to learn from Silverstein that ozone is, “a Summer time issue, it’s not a year round issue. We have different air quality issues in the wintertime, but they’re not in violation of any air quality standards but they are a problem. Our main focus is ozone, it’s ozone in the Summer months, and our job here[at RAQC] is to develop these plans and get a lot of input from a lot of different people, a lot of interest groups, environmental groups, industry groups to put these plans together and present them to the State.”
Interestingly enough, Summer time ozone problems haven’t always been the primary air quality issue in our region. Silverstein explained, “In the early days we had mostly a wintertime air quality problem. It was the famous brown cloud, and carbon monoxide was the primary pollutant, an invisible pollutant so it wasn’t that brown haze, but it was mostly vehicle exhaust emissions….the vehicles weren’t computerized, they didn’t have fuel injection, there were so many things about older vehicles. They just polluted a lot. The emission standards were lax. The Federal standards for new cars were not the standards that we have today.”
It was surprising to learn that the brown coloration that gave the brown cloud its name, came from the use of gravel on roads during the winter. The gravel would dry, cars would turn it into dust, creating the massive cloud of particulate that used to hang over our city.
So what about things that individuals can do to help improve regional air quality? It’s fairly simple, you can drive less, carpool, use public transit, or ride a bicycle! It’s also important to pay attention to our regulatory bodies. Paying attention to, and understanding how environmental regulations and standards are developed and implemented is crucial. We are all stakeholders in our environment and can be a part of that development process.
Want to know more about RAQC? We'll be adding an extended and more detailed version of this article to our website in January!