OCTOBER 3, 2018 BY 

New device provides up-to-date air quality info in Steamboat

 Steamboat Pilot & Today
Haze from wildfire smoke is becoming a regular part of summertime in the Yampa Valley. A new air quality monitor installed in downtown Steamboat will help officials and the public track how area air quality is impacted. (Photo by Michael Armstrong)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — There’s a new way for Routt County residents to determine if they’ll face hazy days or a breath of fresh air.

An air quality-monitoring device installed near the Routt County Courthouse downtown now provides real-time air quality updates accessible online.

“What prompted our interest in getting this device was the increase in wildfire haze that we’re seeing in the summers, and the haze that you see from these fires is from fine particulate matter,” said Routt County Environmental Health Director Scott Cowman. “That’s what this device measures.”

The device uses a fan to pull air into it, then shoots a laser through the air. The light reflects off of tiny particles of dust, smoke and other pollutants in the air and allows the device to estimate how many particles are in the air.

The device measures particles in the air that are 2.5 micrometers and smaller. For comparison, a strand of hair is typically 70 micrometers in diameter, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Information is updated online about every 80 seconds. The public can check air quality in Steamboat Springs by visiting purpleair.com/map. Clicking on the dot over Steamboat provides detailed information about levels of pollutants in the air, humidity and temperature.

The map also breaks down the possible health impacts current air quality could have on those who work or play outside.

Cowman said the information could help school administrators, for example, make informed decisions about holding sports practices or recesses outside on hazy days.

There are other ways to monitor air quality, such as calculating how far you can see into the haze, but an actual air monitor adds a quantitative, local tool to Routt County’s tool kit. It also could allow the county to get air quality advisories to the public sooner.

Though the county already monitored larger, 10-micrometer particulate matter in the air, there was no local information available about smaller 2.5-micrometer particles in the air. The closest monitoring devices, besides Routt County’s newly installed device, are in the Fort Collins area and in Eagle County.

“We don’t have a lot of information for fine particulate matter, so we’re trying to fill that gap and make that data available to the public, so they can better gauge what, if any, outdoor activities are appropriate,” Cowman said.

Routt County is applying for a grant along with some other Northwest Colorado counties to place more air monitors in the area. Cowman hopes to place additional monitors in Hayden, Hahns Peak and Yampa.

The monitors could provide opportunities for learning, both for Routt County officials and the community.

Cowman hopes data from air quality monitors across the county could be used as a tool to educate school children about air quality and pollutants.

It also could provide an opportunity for Cowman to better understand how winter temperature inversions — when a layer of warm air traps colder air in the valley — affect air quality and temperature.

“Particulates and other criteria pollutants can get trapped under those warm air layers, so we’re interested in seeing how (2.5-micrometer particulate matter) is affected in those times,” Cowman said.

The device also provides for more specific temperature data to be collected, which could be compared to temperatures at other weather stations around town.

For more information about air quality in the county, visit http://www.co.routt.co.us/160/Air-Quality.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email ehasenbeck@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.