Share the Air Week - Learn More about Ozone



Public Health Encourages You to Mow Down Pollution


In recognition of National Air Quality Awareness week, Garfield, Eagle,  Mesa, and Pitkin County, along with the City of Aspen, and the US EPA have partnered together to raise awareness about indoor and outdoor air quality issues, encouraging our communities to ‘share the air.’

Contact: Jannette Whitcomb, Senior Environmental Health Program Coordinator for the City of Aspen at 920-5069 or or Carla Ostberg, Environmental Health Manager for Pitkin County at 920-5438 or

Aspen, CO – May 4, 2011--Did you know that running an older lawnmower for one hour on a hot summer day can create almost as much pollution as driving from Vail to Grand Junction? People don’t often think about air pollution and mowing the lawn. However, small engines (like those in a lawn mower) emit high levels of nitrogen oxides and volatile organics which are the two pollutants that contribute to the formation of ground level ozone.

While ozone up high in the Earth’s upper atmosphere provides a natural, protective layer, at ground level, ozone is “bad” and is an air pollutant that is harmful to breathe.  It also damages crops, trees and other vegetation.

Hot weather and sunlight interacting with nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organics (VOC) cause ground-level ozone to form in harmful concentrations in the air. Though emissions from oil and gas drilling and traffic are thought to be the main sources of NOx and VOC, how people take care of their lawn and garden can also impact ozone levels in our air.  It is about the equipment you use and the fuel that powers them. 

Is your lawn mower gas-powered with pollutants emitted at a high rate right in front of you? Is your electric mower powered by Aspen Electric?  If so you are emitting zero pollutants at the source (tailpipe) and more than 75% of the power comes from clean, renewable sources. If your mower is a push mower then that is the cleanest method of them all…all you burn is calories.

That gas powered mower contributes to ozone which when inhaled can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. It can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. In Pitkin County, there are approximately 1,200 asthma cases (children and adults with asthma; taken from 2005 American Lung Association report) and 4.3 hospitalizations per 10,000 per year related to asthma (Health Statistics Section, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, May 2003.).

Here is an individual story about a citizen choosing people-power: Jonathan Godes wasn’t looking to make an ‘environmental statement’ when he found his push reel mower at a garage sale for $15. He just thought it would be fun. “I thought I would mow with it a few times to see how it worked.” Now he uses it exclusively on his 2000 square foot lawn. “It takes me less time to mow than it did with my old gas powered mower. I don’t have to spend time with the gas or making sure my machine works. Trying to push a lawnmower up a hill was a pain, but my reel mower only weighs ten pounds so it is easier to push. I can come home for lunch and knock out my yard because I can go back without smelling like fumes.” He doesn’t have to breathe them in either.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “people with respiratory illness and people who are highly active in the outdoors incur the most risk when ozone levels are high. Ozone starting at 60 ppb begins to be a concern for people with lung disease, older adults and children. In April, Aspen started having ozone levels in the 60 to 70 ppb range. Since December, 2009, Aspen has been monitoring ozone and so far has seen levels in this range mainly in the springtime.   “Unfortunately even in this beautiful, mountain town, ozone is a concern and one that starts in the spring when temperatures start to warm.” The City of Aspen and Pitkin County encourage you to do your part and avoid certain activities during peak sun hours such as using gas-powered lawn equipment, filling gas tank of your equipment and even your car.  These changes can reduce emissions by 50%.

To find out more about air quality in Aspen and Pitkin County go to


Posted on Wednesday, May 04, 2011