In winter, the Grand Valley becomes subject to thermal inversions and their associated high levels of fine particle pollution. Cold, stagnant air allows for the buildup of pollution over time, particularly from wood-burning smoke and vehicle exhaust. The longer the duration of the inversion, the poorer our air quality can become.
So far this winter, we’ve had 49 “No Burn” days, which means citizens are requested to abstain from burning wood in old woodstoves or fireplaces. The Mesa County Health Department will continue to issue ‘Burn/No Burn’ advisories through the Western Slope Air Watch through February. This program is intended to help cut down on a portion of wood smoke during those high pollution times.
Newer woodstoves and many pellet stoves emit significantly less pollution than older models, and are therefore exempt from these requirements. A comprehensive list of approved indoor burning devices for Colorado can be viewed here.
To check the status of the most recent Western Slope Air Watch advisory, you can visit the Mesa County Health Department website, call our pre-recorded 24-hour hotline at (970) 248-6990, or send me a request to be added to our email distribution list.
When deciding whether to declare a ‘No Burn’ day, Mesa County Health Department takes several factors into consideration. These include current pollution levels reported by monitoring equipment, short term weather forecasts, and a check of visibility levels. If Mt. Garfield has disappeared, chances are good that it’s going to be a ‘No Burn’ day.
A new advisory is issued as often as necessary but typically two to three times per week. Due to uncertain forecasts, alerts are occasionally issued daily.
When improperly used, even a newer model wood burning device can emit lots of smoke. Another downside of a smoky chimney is that you are not getting as much bang for your buck with your firewood. A properly operated device not only cuts down on pollution, it saves money and makes your home more comfortable. For info on burning efficiently with your fireplace or woodstove, check out EPA’s Burn Wise Tips.
Future posts will deal with other strategies for reducing fine particle pollution during the winter months. A little bit of effort by a big group of people can go a long way toward maintaining healthy air for all residents of the Grand Valley.
Edward Brotsky is the air quality specialist for the Mesa County Health Department. Read him Mondays on Healthy Mesa County.