Garfield County disputes finding in American Lung Association report
Garfield County commissioners on Monday formally signed off on objections to an American Lung Association report that ranked the Glenwood Springs-Edwards area as the 25th most ozone-polluted city in the country.
Commissioners voiced support for a letter drafted by the county’s environmental health specialist, Morgan Hill, that questioned the method used by the American Lung Association.
ALA’s 2016 “state of the air report,” an annual report that uses data on ozone and particle pollution from monitoring stations across the country, concluded that the Glenwood Springs-Edwards metropolitan statistical area ranked 25th for most-ozone polluted cities.
The report, which was released in April, gave Garfield and many other Colorado counties an “F” for high ozone days from 2012-14. During that time period, Garfield had 47 days with an “orange” ozone rating, which signifies unhealthy conditions for sensitive groups, such as those with asthma.
The results in ALA’s report run contrary to annual reports using data compiled by Garfield County, which boasts about the robust size of its monitoring program.
In recent years, those annual reports have pointed to a general improvement in Garfield County’s air quality, including with regards to ozone, which the Environmental Protection Agency defines as a harmful air pollutant created when emissions and other pollutants chemically react in sunlight.
“Garfield County has the most extensive air monitoring network of any rural county in the state of Colorado and possibly the nation, with a breadth of data to show that our air quality is well within attainment of standards for ozone,” Hill wrote in the letter.
Echoing similar concerns raised in a letter from the state’s air pollution and control division, Hill pointed to issues with ALA’s methodology. Specifically, the study’s use of metropolitan statistical areas in rural regions, such as the case in Garfield County, groups small municipalities located in several different counties in order to create a “city,” Hill wrote.
“Our topography is rugged, with vast spatial variations within Garfield County and even more so between the adjacent Pitkin and Eagle counties included in the (metropolitan statistical area),” she wrote. “Grouping them together for this designation is a misrepresentation of our distinct local communities.”
Allison MacMunn, ALA spokesperson, said the organization just learned about the letters Monday. ALA will review the concerns and reach out to Garfield County, she said.
The ALA report used ozone data from the EPA’s Air Quality System, which, according to the EPA, “contains ambient air pollution data collected by EPA, state, local and tribal air pollution control agencies from over thousands of monitors.”
William Allison, director of Colorado’s air pollution control division, noted that the system includes sites that may not meet EPA quality control standards, and does not take into account the purpose of monitoring at each site.
He pointed specifically to Garfield County, where 99 percent of the recorded “orange” ozone levels were recorded at a U.S. Forest Service monitoring site on Sunlight Mountain, at an elevation of nearly 10,600 feet.
“The high elevation site is likely influenced by stratospheric ozone more than lower elevation sites, and is not representative of general populations in Garfield County,” Allison wrote, noting that the site does not meet certain EPA criteria. “Thus, the use of these data for evaluating (population) exposures is questionable.”
Further, Allison noted the report’s use of revised National Ambient Air Quality Standards that took effect at the end of 2015. Using the old standard for data from 2012-14 “would be more appropriate and consistent,” rather than the new standards, he wrote.
He also noted the use of incomplete data zones and no recognition of spatial coverage in counties.
“In conclusion, the division respects that there are different methodologies to look at air quality metrics, each with different pros and cons,” Allison wrote. “We believe there are some deficiencies in the existing ALA methodology and would respectfully request that the ALA revisit the methodology for next year. We appreciate your consideration of our comments, and look forward to continued collaboration and partnership with the ALA.”
Hill stuck a similar tone in her conclusion.
“We ask that in future reports on air quality, the American Lung Association consider in greater detail their methods and the diverse factors that affect the data included in their assessments,” Hill wrote. “We would value a partnership with the ALA on our shared goals; however, it makes collaboration more difficult with assertions such as those made in the 2016 report.”
In noting Hill’s “diplomatic” approach in the letter, Commissioner John Martin drew a harder line Monday.
“We need to put our foot down when it comes to misinformation,” he said.
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