Air monitoring station up and running near Carbondale |

Air monitoring station up and running near Carbondale

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
Contributed photoThis air quality monitor is set up in a field north of the Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale to measure air quality and drifting pollutants. It's a project of Garfield County Public Health.

CARBONDALE, Colorado – A new Garfield County air quality monitoring station is at work just west of Carbondale collecting data on air pollution, a county official said this week.

“We’re up and running,” said Paul Reaser, director of environmental health for Garfield County.

The monitor represents the first time the county government has conducted air quality monitoring in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“It’s a completely different air shed than the Colorado River Valley,” said Paul Reaser, director of the county’s environmental health office.

He said the monitor is designed to analyze air samples from the Roaring Fork and Crystal river valleys, as well as the Thompson Divide region, where energy companies have announced plans to drill wells.

The equipment stands in a field owned by the Colorado Rocky Mountain School, north of the campus.

Although the monitoring device has been collecting data for more than three months, it will be months more before enough data has accumulated to offer conclusions about air pollution patterns in the area, Reaser said.

“These air quality monitoring sites are a long-term proposition,” Reaser told the Post Independent. He expects to gather a full year’s worth of data before trying to arrive at conclusions about air pollution.

He said the monitor is set up to screen for PM-10 and PM-2.5 particulates (tiny bits of dirt or other material, which can cause health problems if inhaled), ozone and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) drifting eastward from oil and gas drilling activities in the western part of the county.

Reaser explained that the county wants to know more about how VOCs are behaving in the region’s air sheds. The monitor is calibrated for more than 90 types of VOCs typically found near oil and gas drilling and pumping facilities.

But the monitor is not testing for hydrogen sulfide, H2S, a toxic VOC that has been detected at dangerously high concentrations near drilling operations in western Garfield County, according to state reports.

The compound has been detected at high levels at certain drilling sites operated by Noble Energy, according to Stephen Flaherty, community relations director for the company.

But industry officials, as well as scientists with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, have said the incidence of H2S in the portion of the gas-rich Piceance Basin within Garfield County is negligible and does not pose a threat to human health.

“It’s my understanding that the oil and gas in this region just does not have a lot of H2S,” Reaser said.

He added that the monitor is checking for what are known as the BTEX (pronounced bee-tex) compounds typically associated with petroleum extraction activities – benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes.

All four are listed as toxic substances by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Benzene is considered a cancer-causing agent, while toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes are associated with harmful effects on the human nervous system.

The CRMS monitor, Reaser said, is part of an expanded air monitoring program ordered by the Garfield County commissioners, which also includes a mobile air monitoring station.

The mobile monitor is slated initially for use in the Battlement Mesa area, Reaser said.

The idea, he said, is to better establish a baseline of air quality data there, in advance of expected intensive gas drilling activity in the neighborhood by the Antero Resources energy company.

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