Particulate matter (PM) is a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets. Particle pollution is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles.
The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. EPA is concerned about particles that are 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller because those are the particles that generally pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs. Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects. High levels of particulate matter can cause visible air pollution, not only affecting our health, but our natural scenery as well.
PM10 is particulate matter between 10 and 2.5 micrometers (from about 25 to 100 times thinner than a human hair). PM10 is considered “inhalable coarse particles," and can be found near roadways and dusty industries.
PM10 is less of an immediate health concern than PM2.5 given that it does not penetrate the very lowest part of the lungs. However, it is still small enough to enter the lungs and cause irritation of your eyes, nose, and throat. Historically, high levels of PM10 have increased hospital admissions, illness rates and death rates.
PM10 is smoke, dirt, dust emitted from unpaved and paved roads, uncontrolled construction sites, restaurant grills and fireplaces as well as from windblown mold, spores and pollen.
Aspen’s particulate air quality monitor is collocated with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s PM-10 monitors on the roof of the Yellow Brick building, located at 215 N Garmisch. This location provides a good indication of the overall particulate levels for Aspen.
The City of Aspen has been monitoring PM10 for over twenty-five years. PM10 air quality monitoring played an integral role in verifying that the air quality measures the community adopted in the mid 1980’s were working to reduce historical high levels of PM10. By monitoring PM10 we can determine our compliance with the EPA’s 24-hour standard of 150 ug/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter). Aspen is currently in compliance with this standard and has been for over a decade.
PM-10 levels like those Aspen experienced in the 1980s are associated with:
- Increased hospital admissions
- Greater illness rates
- Increased death rates
This is because PM-10 particles are less than 10 microns in diameter (about 1/7th the thickness of a human hair), which is small enough to be inhaled into the deepest parts of the lung. Aspen can have visible air pollution, not only affecting our health, but our natural scenery as well.
Most of Aspen’s PM-10 is caused by traffic. 83% of Aspen’s PM-10 pollution comes from dirt kicked up by traffic driving on paved roads. A small amount of additional PM-10 comes from vehicle exhaust. The PM-10 caused by traffic can only be lowered by trip reduction measures like carpooling, bus transit, light rail, walking, biking, and/or telecommuting along with the City’s street sweeping efforts. With up to 37,000 vehicle trips each day on Main St., Aspen has a very difficult challenge: PM-10 harms peoples’ health and without reducing Aspen’s high traffic levels, PM-10 levels will continue to be high.
Fire Place & Woodstove Regulations
In order to keep our air as clean as possible, the elected officials of Aspen and Pitkin County have passed codes to regulate the number and types of fireplaces and woodstoves that can be installed in any building. Building permit applicants must file a fireplace/woodstove registration [link to form] with the City of Aspen Building Department or the Pitkin County Building Department before the building permit is issued. Just be sure that the device you are planning on installing is on the Colorado Certified Residential Burning Devices or EPA Certified Residential Burning Devices lists.
See section 13.08.070 in the municipal code on health and quality of environment for more information.
Restaurant Grill Regulations
Restaurants that want to add a char grill may be required to install a PM-10 removal device to protect our local air quality and should speak with an Environmental Health Specialist about how this section of the air quality ordinance will apply.
Municipal Code section 13.08.100
Ways to Reduce PM-10
- Take the bus, bike, walk, or car pool. Most of Aspen’s PM-10 comes from cars driving over and grinding up dirt and sand on the road and kicking it into the air. The days with the lowest PM-10 readings correlate with the days when traffic is at its lowest.
- Burn less wood. Wood smoke creates PM-10, so consider reducing the size or number of fires you have or look into installing a gas burning insert in your existing wood burning fireplace.
- Use a rake and push broom for yard work. Leaf blowers kick dust and debris into the air where it adds to PM-10.
Regulated by the City of Aspen Engineering Department.
Please contact Jannette Whitcomb at 970-920-5069 with any PM-10 or air quality questions.