1 December 2020
On Saturday, September 26th, Denver registered the highest Air Quality Index (AQI) level in the world, spiking at 229 (Reppenhagen, 2020). AQI is a metric of measuring airborne particulate matter then comparing them to national standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The AQI value is then set on a color coded scale, each color representative of a level of health risk. While the 229 measure put the city in the ‘Very Unhealthy’ category, spikes and drops in the numeric AQI value occur regularly. Even when these fluctuations are accounted for, metro Denver is regularly ranked in the worst 10 cities nationally for air pollution (Finley, 2020).
During this time, multiple fires raged in areas across the Colorado front range, making the state peak above 500 on the AQI (Air Quality Index) according to the multiple different monitors across the front range that measure air quality. According to the AQI, anything above 300 is hazardous and beyond 500 is off the charts which demonstrates how badly the problem has become in the Colorado front range. While this may have only boosted Denver to the worst city in the world on September 26th, the effects of each fire had been felt at least a week beforehand with the Mullen, Middle Fork, and Cameron Peak fires all burning across Colorado. Each of these fires are still currently burning in different parts of Colorado and are mostly contained, however all of these fires are still not expected to be fully contained and extinguished until December of 2020 at the absolute earliest, or early 2021 at the latest.
Almost every city has different regulations in the U.S. concerning air pollution however, all cities across the country have to fall under the Clean Air Act which was enacted in 1970 to ensure that air quality levels were maintained at a good level. According to the EPA the Clean Air Act had many different goals to achieve, one of them being to reduce the six major pollutants across the country which are particles, ozone, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. “From 1970 to 2017, aggregate national emissions of the six common pollutants alone dropped an average of 73 percent while gross domestic product grew by 324 percent. This progress reflects efforts by state, local and tribal governments; EPA; private sector companies; environmental groups and others” (Environmental Protection Agency, 2020).
Unfortunately, this is the only federal act or law that pertains to air pollution in particular, while any other acts or laws in place are there to apply only at the state level at most. Colorado is one of the states that does not have its own law pertaining to this and only has certain statues in the Colorado Revised Statutes (CRP), meaning that Colorado has not seen any real laws or regulation changes since 1990 when the Clean Air Act was last amended. In December of 2019, the EPA declared Colorado a “Serious” violator of the Clean Air Act which means Denver and the Colorado Front Range have to make serious changes to meet the standard in place by 2021. “EPA is taking this action based on monitoring data showing that ozone remains a challenge in Denver and northern Front Range communities,” the agency’s regional administrator Greg Sopkin said in a prepared statement announcing the decision (Finley, 2019).
This triggers a requirement that Colorado must reduce pollution by 2021, and the state health department plans to issue permits for any industrial operation that emits more than 50 tons of pollution a year, down from the current permitting threshold of 100 tons” (Finley, 2019). These are the goals Denver and the Colorado Front Range must accomplish by 2021, showing an issue with severity for not only air pollution but a timetable set before the government intervenes with the current practices in Colorado.
Denver’s exceptional violations of air quality standards can be attributed to both anthropological and meteorological factors. There is the notorious “brown cloud” that looms over the city and hazes the horizon. Garry Kaufman, director of the Air Pollution Control Division for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, explained that this cloud is a dense concentration of pollutants condensed by weather systems and contained by the mountains. Another factor, debatably equally anthropogenic as it is natural, that has greatly exacerbated worse air quality is the wildfires that ravaged the northern Front Range.
Colorado prides itself on being notoriously environmentally-conscious and outdoorsy, yet their failure to properly enforce regulation and their tolerance of industrial polluters tarnishes this reputation. Industrial activities are a large contributor to air pollution and respiratory health risk. In north Denver, there are industrial facilities such as the Purina dog food plant, coal factories, and especially the Suncor Energy oil refinery. Suncor is the largest non-coal-related greenhouse gas emitter in all of Colorado. While greenhouse gases play into the self-reinforcing feedback loop of worsening wildfires worsening air quality, they are of less concern to immediate physical health than other toxic emissions from Suncor. The refinery releases 14.1 tons of hydrogen cyanide gas, used for chemical warfare in WWI and in the gas chambers of WWII, into our air each year (Woodruff, 2019). Not only is the facility not concerned by this level of emission, but they requested an expansion of their permit to raise this emission to 20 tons. The level of particulate matter in the air is volatile and dependent on weather patterns, but Suncor serves as a constant stationary source of PM2.5, the second largest source in the state. Regular exposure to microscopic particulate matter elicits a cocktail of long-term health consequences, especially exacerbating dementia, pre-existing respiratory conditions, and inflammatory illnesses. Suncor is the fourth biggest state emitter of volatile organic compounds, which cause cancer and produces ozone, one of the most problematic and persistent greenhouse gases (Woodruff, 2019). Including Suncor, Colorado polluters pay at most $15,000 a day for pollution regulation violations, less than a third of the federal maximum of $47,357 (Pichardo, 2019). This maximum is not even determined by scientific research or community standards but by industry recommendation.
The disproportionate health consequences of air pollution on the lowest income neighborhoods of Denver exposes the need for environmental justice. Communities in northern Denver around industrial sites have lower life expectancies and higher rates of certain diseases. The Globeville and Elyria-Swansea (GES) area is the most polluted zip code in the entire country (Growhaus, 2020). In great part due to the air pollution, residents of GES have elevated rates and risk of cardiovascular disease, asthma, diabetes, and cancer. Children born in the area have a life expectancy of 11 years less than children born in more affluent parts of Denver according to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study in 2019 (Growhaus, 2020). Residents have spoken up and attempted to fight back against the unchecked pollution and highway expansions, bringing more traffic emissions. The community is further marginalized by public official bodies as their testimonies are regularly excluded from government reports, like it was excluded from the Department of Public Health and Environment’s 2019 report about the negative consequences of oil and gas (Pichardo, 2020).
Concerning the different perspectives in air pollution, there are little to no people who deny the issue or the prevalence, instead many argue about what the best ways to combat are specifically in Colorado. The most agreed upon way for reducing air pollution and emissions is to focus the reduction on larger pollutants such as factories, fossil fuel facilities, buildings, even cattle feedlots (Finley, 2020). The alternatives to some of these pollutants would be renewable energy statewide, such as solar power, wind power, and even hydropower since over half the electricity in Colorado still comes from burning coal. In fact, the top 10 polluters in Colorado are all power plants (Finley, 2020). There are others who believe that the focus should be on car emissions and raising the standard that each car produces since doing so could potentially reduce emissions by 2.4 million tons by 2030 (Denver Public Health and Environment, 2018). These are the two mainly discussed methods since this creates the most emissions in the state, however there are more potential issues besides the two major contributors.
Unfortunately, going inside does not reduce the risk of health complications but rather increases it. According to the EPA, indoor air quality in Denver is 2 to 5 times worse than outdoor air quality. Americans spend 90% of their time inside (Environmental Protection Agency, 2020), and because of the pandemic, people are spending even more time indoors with the trapped pollutants. Being inside without proper ventilation can trap particulate matter in homes and amplify their effects on the body. Many activities inside the home contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, especially space and water heating. Fuel-burning combustion appliances, aerosols and household cleaners, building materials like asbestos-containing insulation and certain pressed woods, excess moisture, and trapped outdoor pollutants all contribute to poor indoor air quality (Environmental Protection Agency, 2020). Children are particularly susceptible to health consequences (Department of Public Health and Environment, 2020), so it is important to monitor and regulate the air quality in schools. According to the ‘Love My Air’ initiative spearheaded by Denver Smart City, “schools are an ideal intervention point for sensor deployment, education, and empowerment” (Department of Public Health and Environment, 2020). The recent outburst of forest fires on the Front Range has further inflamed the negative health effects of poor air quality.
We reached out to a variety of stakeholders who are knowledgeable about the topic to better understand exactly what the issues are and the best way to combat them. We used Krile’s Analyzing Community Problems tool as well as the stakeholder worksheet provided in class to better understand the information we got from the stakeholders as they all lived in Colorado and understood the problems the state currently faces (Krile, 2010). After meeting with the stakeholders, there were 3 projects that were considered by our CCI group in addressing this issue in their own way to help out the local community here in Denver. The first method in consideration was the tiny house project. Tiny houses are smaller houses that are much cleaner alternatives to big, emission heavy houses. Each house is completely solar powered (ovens, lighting, water purification, chargers, AC, etc.), so it is perfect for cities with solar exposure (e.g. Denver). Creating a model version and holding informational meetings can educate people how to convert certain aspects of their homes to greener options and perhaps even build a tiny house in a local community to better show how effective they can be. The second project considered was an indoor air quality sensor, measuring across a community. These sensors would be in the homes of people who live in communities more exposed to air pollution in Denver so they can track the air quality inside their own homes. This is prevalent to what is going on in the world currently as people are spending much more time in their homes due to COVID-19, which would allow these sensors to accurately track the quality of air in people's homes and see how small actions such as having the trash or certain foods they cook can impact the quality of air in their own home. The final idea that was being considered was providing a sustainable food source to the most polluted zip code in Colorado to make a healthy source of food to boost immunity and health, while also reducing emissions from transportation to the grocery store. However these 3 ideas ultimately have flaws within them that require certain stakeholders and/or funding that makes them difficult to implement and not very practical. That being the case has led the group to come up with an idea of being able to teach a program to the younger generation. This program will be discussed in further detail in the project proposal
Many community organizations are making efforts to address the air quality issue. Colorado is currently drafting a Greenhouse Gas Emission Roadmap to meet the goals of reducing greenhouse gas pollution 26% by 2025 and 50% by 2030 from 2005 levels (State of Colorado, 2020). The Department of Public Health and Environment is utilizing a multi-year grant to implement an air quality monitoring program in 40 public schools; air sensors are installed then connected to a publicly-accessible dashboard of air quality information to assess risk (Booth, 2020). Denver is looking to expand this program and subsequent “clean air curriculums” to more schools in the area. The specific issue our Community Change Initiative (CCI) seeks to address is mitigating the health effects of poor indoor air quality especially as they disproportionately affect children and low-income neighborhoods. This project seeks to increase education and awareness of the ways people can protect their health against pollutants, improve the air quality inside their homes, and reduce their individual contributions to air pollution.
Dear Selection Committee,
Our group has decided to tackle the issue of environmental sustainability as a whole, specifically in the Elyria-Swansea, Globeville, and River North areas. These areas will be the target of our project due to the fact that they all fall under the 80216 zip code. Using information from ATTOM Data Solutions, we were able to discern that this zip code is the most polluted in the entire country based on four environmental factors: Air quality, the number of pollution-generating facilities in the area, the number of Superfund cleanup sites and the number of brownfield sites (ATTOM Data Solutions, 2020). Superfund and brownfield sites are former industrial or commercial properties where redevelopment is often infeasible due to leftover pollution and contamination.
By focusing our project in these areas we hope to provide an opportunity for young members of these communities to become educated as to why their communities struggle in the areas of sustainability, and provide solutions that encompass the ways in which they are able to reduce their own footprint. The Growhaus is an organization that has delivered healthy, fresh food to residents of this zip code throughout the pandemic, and states on their website that the life expectancy in this zip code is 11 years lower than average due to these environmental risk factors (Growhaus, 2020). By addressing the challenges that members of these communities face from a young age, we hope to jumpstart consciousness that will allow youth to make the best possible decisions for themselves as it relates to their health and future well-being.
Our team believes that our mission encompasses the guidelines of an exemplary Community Change Initiative. We have identified local concerns in the 80216 zip code, and they have guided our proposed implementation of action. We have identified potential stakeholders in terms of both knowledge and funding, and are in the stage of determining which ones will remain concrete throughout our implementation. We believe this project will act as a catalyst for change for members of the youth community in this area through education and hands on experience. Lastly, we have evaluated our efforts at great length in order to determine the most effective approach for our project through primary and secondary research as well as stakeholder interviews.
Pioneer Leadership Program
Our team is spread across two different classes, consisting of Jenner Lyman, Cloe Miller, Alex Nietch, and Alex Orcutt. While not all being in the same class would likely impede our collaboration and productivity as a group, our frequent communication amongst each other has proven to break this potential roadblock amongst us. Miller and Orcutt, both being in one class, knew they wanted to focus on some type of environmental change, while Lyman had been growing more concerned and invested in the air pollution of Denver throughout another one of his classes where he would write articles about the city’s air quality. All four of us noticed the extraordinary severity of Denver’s air on September 26th of this year, so discovering that Denver had the worst air quality in the entire world that day was both alarming and unifying for all of us (Reppenhagen, 2020). Nietch was also interested in making some kind of big change in the environment of his city, being a native to Denver. The prevalence of the smoke filled air from the notable wildfires in the western part of the country, even in the isolation of the mountains and forests, only fortified our decision that improving air quality was the ambitious goal we decided needed tackling. This brought us all together and is how our team first formed.
As we moved forward, we ran into an obstacle almost immediately. After a surface level amount of research, we all realized that the three main contributors to Denver’s poor air quality were wildfires, transportation, and emissions from larger corporations. Most wildfires are either natural or ignited by an individual or small group of people, so this did not seem like a plausible angle to tackle the issue. Alternatively, we were thinking we could focus around advocating for the use of public transportation since ridership has been steadily decreasing over the years. Between December 2014 and November 2015, there were 103,377,797 annual riders. This consistently declined every year, reaching an annual amount of 95,041,289 riders between December 2018 and November 2019, excluding the Free MallRide and Free MetroRide passengers, which were part of a unique deal to that annual report (RTD, 2020). While this could have been a great seed for a plethora of projects, the pandemic caused exceptional circumstances where an increase in ridership would be more dangerous to the lives of others. Thus, this would not nearly be as effective of a project this year as it could have been before or after the pandemic. Lastly, we could have worked with larger corporations in trying to reduce their emissions, but it was likely they were not going to listen to the four of us if they have been ignoring the encouragement from several national and international environmental activist groups to reduce their emissions in order to help save the planet. Our only approach in that direction would have been through lobbying, which seems like an unproductive and insufficient use of our time this year when our project could make much more of a difference. As a result, we started brainstorming our list of stakeholders in hopes of hearing a better project to take on that was actually reasonable for us given our place in the world.
Since our next obstacle was the lack of responses to our emails to potential stakeholders in an attempt to schedule interviews, we scheduled a meeting with our project coach, Effley Brooks. While Brooks was able to help us reach out to a slew of different people that have worked with CCI groups in the past and would likely respond quicker, he also suggested that we focus on indoor air quality, an idea we either had little information on previously or simply had not yet considered. While only a few of our stakeholders had any insight on indoor air quality, we did learn from Garry Kaufman, the Director of the Colorado Air Pollution Department of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, that the state of Colorado does not directly regulate indoor air quality and that his team focuses specifically on regulating and holding informational sessions about asbestos (Kaufman, 2020). This stakeholder ended up providing us with several project ideas.
While we probably will avoid working specifically with asbestos, this did spark our idea of building a model version of a tiny house and holding informational sessions about the environmental benefits of this sustainable and livable alternative to a larger carbon-emitting house. An audience of future homeowners or people thinking of renovating their homes would be perfect for a project like this. In addition, we took these ideas of indoor air quality being a lesser known contributor to the poor air quality of Denver and brainstormed the idea of inserting indoor air quality sensors into people’s homes that would notify them of what household activities, such as cooking or taking out the trash, are worsening their air quality and by how much. While this would be inclusive of everyone who lives in a house, this project would be far too expensive for any budget we will likely receive and it would be rather useless if the people were not given solutions for reducing their household emissions. Nonetheless, these were some decent project ideas already being considered this early in our CCI process and had us thinking as a team.
Furthermore, Cloe Miller met with Shelly Miller, who is a professor at University of Colorado, Boulder in the Environmental Engineering Program of the College of Engineering and Applied Science. She has an impressive resume in air pollution control and brought up a strong case for the Purina Dog Food factory in Denver, one of the worst carbon emitters in the city, if not the whole Colorado Front Range. This stakeholder interview suggested the project idea of creating sustainable food gardens as an alternative healthy food source for the Denver citizens residing in food deserts. While obviously this does not solve the reliance on Purina’s dog food supply and its heavy emissions, we yet again figured lobbying for policies that reduce the factory’s emissions would be a poor use of our time. These communities living in food deserts, which are in this situation mostly due to the factory odors halting the harvests of healthy crops, could create their own community gardens so that they have a much more convenient source of food that is not going to force them away from a nutritional diet. After further group discussion, we evolved this idea into our current project proposal of educating younger students in elementary and middle schools in the 80216 zip code on how to grow their own school community gardens. We would then help them set up their own gardens and guide them towards being self sustainable. This would hopefully encourage this process to sustain into their adult lives, improving their food desert communities as that generation grows up and takes initiative with their newly gained knowledge. This project is discussed more in depth later in this paper.
This project came from holding several more stakeholder interviews, personal and group research, and evolution of the idea through weekly meetings. Now, we have a project that coincides with our team’s mission statement: We will help educate the communities most affected by Denver’s major carbon emitters so that they can sustain their own environmentally courteous lifestyles for years to come and ultimately improve Denver’s air quality. Our vision lies in helping the youth, who are most likely to be intrigued by such projects and can take these ideas into their future as they make their communities healthier and eco-friendly.
Since we are a team, this project is a result of a lot of discussion and decision making. We have an active group chat where we frequently suggest new ideas or clarify current ideas to make sure they make sense. In addition, we meet almost every week over Zoom to come together with our ideas and talk them out. We hear what everyone has to say, comes to a few conclusions, votes on the best ideas, then continues to suggest more ideas. We modify what we already have decided on as well, such as the email format for scheduling potential stakeholder interviews. This was one of our biggest setbacks, for only one person had even responded to our eight initial emails after seven or eight days. We had all agreed on our email at first and it seemed really professional and comprehensive for the potential stakeholders to understand what we were trying to say, but we realized that clearly something was problematic with our wording. When we failed to see the issue, we met with Brooks again and asked for his opinion. He personally thought it was a good email, but he helped us get into the mindset of the receivers of our emails to see what could look offensive or bring up any red flags. We then modified it to be less binding and emphasized that we are just looking for a short interview so we can develop a foundation for our project and explore different avenues to take in order to ameliorate Denver’s poor air quality. Sure enough, we redeveloped our email template and sent it out to five new potential stakeholders, as well as some other connections Brooks recommended. Before we knew it, we were scheduling several stakeholders in the course of a four day period, and they gave us a lot of insight towards our project.
Reflecting on our group, we communicate frequently and this has helped us immensely in resolving conflicts and passing roadblocks that have impeded our project development at first. We regularly meet, openly discuss ideas, give each other feedback to hold each other accountable, and reach out to Effley Brooks, our project coach, if we are struggling as a group with something. We plan to continue these group efforts as we prepare to take on the project we are proposing over the next two quarters. Since half of our project is educational and online, we can always emit the in person gardening aspect of our project if the pandemic sends us home again, and we can Zoom in to oversee these kids’ gardens and guide them virtually. Our team is resilient and ready to take on the implementation of our CCI project next quarter.
Our proposed project mission is two-fold. Our first action will be to design an online course consisting of three weeks of material that will be administered to one middle school (grades 7 and 8), and one elementary school (grades 4 through 6) within the 80216 zip code. Course content is likely to fluctuate between these two audiences, however our general outline for curriculum will remain the same. It will span over the four environmental risk factors stated above, and in addition address the issue of food deserts and propose potential solutions attainable by the individual. In order to incentivise students to become involved we will keep content concise and engaging, we do not wish to add to the existing burden of schoolwork and so will likely stick to activities such as matching games or brief short answer responses and videos as opposed to assignments. We will also provide students who complete the course with small prizes within our budget such as packets of tomato seeds or water bottles. While seemingly trivial, we feel that providing these small prizes may help to jumpstart each student’s application of sustainable practices in the real world upon the completion of this course. The second action of our project will be to each run a different in-person activity with the students who have completed the course at each school. Some examples of activities are teaching how to plant a basic vegetable and ensure that it will grow properly or a scavenger hunt involving items that contribute to sustainability around the neighborhood. All activities will involve putting course content to use in the real world. We feel this two-step plan will be the best assurance that students will both retain the content and integrate it into their daily lives.
While we still have several months to implement this project, we understand that this is an ambitious approach, especially amidst the pandemic, and plan to begin creating the course over the winter interim. We also plan to reach out to our potential partners before the end of finals week should their offices remain open for any portion of it. We plan to begin the winter quarter with a detailed outline of our course content and structure and hopefully a positive response from our partners. When we administer the course, which will be decided by each school, we will propose that the course should be administered no later than the end of March in order to ensure we will have time to follow-up with students and engage them in in-person activities. We will also propose to isolate each week of the course with alternating weeks in between to ensure that students will retain the information without feeling additional pressure after the incorporation of their regular studies. Our in-person activities will likely occur in either April or May, after the course has been completed and we have been tested for COVID-19 in advance. This date will also likely depend on our partner’s schedule and we are fully prepared to accommodate their timeline to the utmost.
We will be attempting to partner with two different schools within the Elyria-Swansea and Globeville areas. We feel that by targeting two different age groups, elementary and middle school, we will gain an added dimension of research to our project that will help our group, as well as any future CCI groups, discern which age group is most involved or most impacted by our course. We initially considered gearing our course content towards high school students, but ultimately settled for these age groups for two primary reasons. First, we felt that younger students would be more likely to find both the course and activities more engaging. Second, we feel that given the severity of risk to human health in these communities, it is important to educate youth members from as young of an age as possible, so as to lay the groundwork for implementation of more sustainable habits by high school age.
The two schools we will attempt to partner with are Swansea Elementary School in the Elyria-Swansea area and Cole Middle School in Globeville. There are a multitude of elementary and middle schools within the 80216 zip code, making it a very difficult selection for partnership. We decided upon Swansea Elementary for several reasons, the most obvious of which being the school’s location within the 80216 zip code. Another is the school’s location adjacent to the I-70 highway on the south side of the building. While there is currently a proposal underway to cover a portion of the highway in order to allow for the development of better resources for the school such as a soccer field, the timeline of action seems unclear at this time. Meanwhile, these students spend their recess time inhaling fumes from thousands of cars passing closely by their building. The final reason why this school appears to be an excellent candidate for partnership is the fact that is located within a largely Hispanic community. According to Schooldigger, a website that analyzes and ranks aspects of schools across the country such as student diversity and test scores from each state’s department of education, Swansea Elementary comprises 93.1% Hispanic students, 3.4% African American students and only 2.4% Caucasian students (Schooldigger.com, 2020). According to the American Lung Association, “The burden of air pollution is not evenly shared. Poorer people and some racial and ethnic groups are among those who often face higher exposure to pollutants and who may experience greater responses to such pollution” (American Lung Association, 2020). We want to make an impact where it is most needed, and all of these factors contribute to our reasoning behind this school being one target for potential partnership.
We decided on Cole Middle School as a potential partner for similar reasons. One outlying reason we chose this school is due to the fact that they have decided to cancel all sports for the 2020-2021 school year. We hope to give alternative ideas for healthy ways in which students will be able to fill their time in lieu of sports through both course content and in-person activities. Similarly to Swansea Elementary, Cole Middle School is also located in a minority community. Its student body consists of 75.7% Hispanic students, 19.3% African American students and 3.1% Caucasian students. By focusing on these two schools specifically we feel as though we will be impacting audiences that have the most immediate need for this critical information and will be able to benefit from it first and foremost.
Appendix A: Stakeholder Interviews
Friday, November 13th: Garry Kaufman, DPHE
Garry Kaufman is the director of the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division, part of the Department of Public Health and Environment. He has advised clients in the mining and energy industries about air quality regulations, enforcement, and litigations as an environmental attorney. With his expertise in the field, he helped us understand many technical and regulatory facets of this issue. Colorado GHG emissions in 2015 were dominated by the sectors of electricity generation, transportation, building energy use (especially space heating and water heating), and the oil/gas sector (State of Colorado, 2020). Garry reiterated the need for the electrification of end uses in buildings and vehicles. There also needs to be a focus on sustainable housing with efficient, eventually renewable energy sources.
He told us that while Denver still struggles with air quality, it has made strides in the right direction, especially pertaining to the cleanup of carbon monoxide. CO used to be a main pollutant, but certain technological advancements drastically reduced the toxic emission. Catalytic converters in cars and ethanol in gasoline are two crucial examples. Colorado was the first state to mandate ethanol in gasoline, however this practice is no longer beneficial to air quality anymore but more important for corn farmers. Just as ethanol does not solve the air pollution issue, there are other factors out of the city planners and regulator’s hands, such as ozone transferred into the city from other states or countries. This may be especially apparent in Denver because the mountains trap the pollution. Garry explained how the notorious brown cloud, a blanket of condensed gaseous and particulate matter above the Front Range, is in part made possible by the geography of the mountains.
Just as nitrous oxide is a primary concern for climate change and outdoor air quality, there are certain things that emit high levels of nitrous into one’s home including ovens, stoves, and cigarettes. Garry laid out the best way to implement change around this issue is slow and incremental, working within the limits of what adjustments people will accept.
Friday, November 13th: Ayelene McCallum, Downtown Denver Partnership
Ayelene McCullum is the Senior Director of the Civic Leadership Program for the Downtown Denver Partnership. She created and implements the Urban Exploration mission trip in downtown Denver, which has been very successful in contributing to the development of city-building leaders (Downtown Denver Partnership, 2020). She focuses on building relationships and networking with bigger players in the downtown area, helping future leaders capitalize on shared learning experiences. McCallum advocates for harnessing these shared learning experiences because she has seen it unify people of very opposing ideologies that may have never agreed to work together before despite having skills and capabilities that work well together.
While she never worked directly with air pollution, she did spend some time working for Denver’s public transportation sector prior to joining the Downtown Denver Partnership three years ago. She enlightened us on the surprising and alarming reality that air quality departments do not work too closely with the transportation department. This pandemic has really highlighted just how impactful transportation is on the air quality around the world, including Denver.
Lastly, she pushes for political activism rather than political hobbyism. Actually making a change and actively involving one’s self in these changes is more difficult, but clearly much more effective than just caring about an issue and talking about it. While political hobbyism is a good start, McCallum has noticed too many people in the last few generations are content with just talking about issues and what needs to happen while sitting back and expecting people with more power to take the initiative. We hope to take this goal with us going forward with our project, as well as making real connections with the communities we work with when planting their community gardens.
Monday, November 16th: Shelly Miller, CU Boulder
Shelly Miller is a professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She specializes in air quality and the study of particulate matter. Dr. Miller has published extensive studies about the disproportionate health consequences on low-income communities in Denver, particularly the particulate matter emitted from industrial activity in the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea areas. Our interview with Professor Shelly Miller was very elucidating about the gaps in air pollution regulation and the lack of sufficient regional regulation cooperation.
Not only do industrial emissions cause physical effects, they cause psychological and sensory effects with the odor pollution. Odor regulation is often not sufficient to protect the population. Odor regulation is based on the literature about the odor threshold of individual components, not the threshold of mixtures, which is often different. In addition, many of the odor sources detected in Northern Denver come from other regions outside the City of Denver’s regulatory jurisdiction; she stressed the need for regional cooperation so that sources outside of certain jurisdictions can still be reduced or mitigated. Dr. Miller explained why ozone and nitrous oxide are such persistent issues and very hard to get rid of from a chemical engineering standpoint. Both of these pollutants are secondary pollutants, meaning they are byproducts of other chemical reactions. As catalytic converters were the technological advancement that dramatically reduced carbon monoxide pollution, another technological revolution will be necessary to reduce reactions that produce ozone. PM2.5 is both a primary and a secondary pollutant.
Dr. Miller attributed the disproportionate effect that air pollution has on low-income communities to racist policies in urban planning. Pollution sources are located near communities of color, and gentrification in other parts of the city often push people into more polluted zip codes. She then referred us to two more possible community stakeholders, Groundwork Denver and Growhaus Denver.
Monday, November 16: Leanne Jeffers, RIHEL Director
Leanne Jeffers is the director of the Regional Institute for Health and Environmental Leadership here at DU (Regional Institute for Health and Environmental Leadership, 2020). RIHEL is a non-profit organization that helps develop and connect leaders with various communities in the interest of improved human health and sustainability habits within those communities.
As mentioned in the process piece, we had a fairly difficult time with the stakeholder outreach part of our process. We reached out to over 10 stakeholders before one responded. We sent an initial email, a follow-up email and in some cases even attempted calling to no avail. Rather than seeking out Leanne as a potential stakeholder, it occurred to us that she may be able to help better connect us with organizations and individuals passionate about the issues of air pollution and environmental sustainability given her professional field. Fortunately she was more than willing to meet for a brief interview, and ended up being an incredibly effective networking tool for our group as well as a potential stakeholder.
Leanne was able to connect us with organizations and individuals spanning over several categories under the vast umbrella of sustainability. She recommended the State Air Quality Division for a potential stakeholder should we go in the direction of air pollution, Groundwork Denver if we were to tackle how emissions disproportionately impact minority communities, and the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) if we were to center our project around sustainable building. Because our idea has radically shifted from the three topics we initially considered, we have yet to reach out to these suggested stakeholders. Nevertheless, the information is valuable to have on hand and may well come of use as we continue working to identify stakeholders.
Friday, November 20th: Tom Delehanty, Earthjustice
Tom Delehanty is an Earthjustice attorney who works in the Western Energy Project surrounding federal oil and gas issues. He has also worked with the Clean Air Act and public land law. When we spoke with him, he admitted he did not have much experience with air pollution projects in particular, but that climate change due to fossil fuel GHG emissions is right up his professional ally.
Tom told us about Earthjustice’s existing relationship with DU law students. He suggested we reach out to one of DU’s environmental law student groups. He pointed out that there are exciting things happening in the air pollution and GHG emission fields right now surrounding regional regulation and long-term goals. Colorado is in the midst of creating their Greenhouse Gas Emission Roadmap, a set of goals and feasible plans for the state to reduce its contributions to climate change. There are many aspects of the roadmap that are being discussed and reviewed, offering a unique lobbying or project opportunity. In particular Tom thought we would be interested in Housing Bill 1261 which deals specifically with air quality; he mentioned the DU law student organization was already working on an aspect of this bill.
Appendix B: Stakeholder Worksheet
The stakeholder worksheet was one of the first tools we used when beginning the CCI project which allowed us to get a better understanding of how to use each stakeholder and where to start looking as we began to gather resources. The worksheet goes over the difference each stakeholder holds in power/influence and their attitude/stake they have concerning our project, giving us a better idea of what impact, resources, or connection they might have to help us better utilize them. This document grew and evolved as time went on and let us narrow down and best utilize each of our stakeholders to better our project overall.
AirNow. (n.d.). AQI Basics. Retrieved from https://www.airnow.gov/aqi/aqi-basics/
American Lung Association. (2020, April 20). Disparities in the impact of air pollution.
AQCC statutes and regulations. (2020). Retrieved from
ATTOM Data Solutions. (2020, November 22). ATTOM Data®: Property and Real Estate Data:
APIs, Bulk, and Cloud. Retrieved from https://www.attomdata.com/
Booth, M. (2020, November 15). Denver aims to raise awareness of steadily worsening air quality on the Front Range. Retrieved from https://coloradosun.com/2020/11/15/denver-air-pollution-getting-worse/
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. (2020). Cleanest Cities: State of the
Air. Retrieved from https://www.stateoftheair.org/city-rankings/cleanest-cities.html
Denver Public Health and Environment. (2018, May). Protecting Our Communities from Air
Pollution. Retrieved from https://assets.bouldercounty.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/colorado-clean-car-standards-report.pdf
Department of Public Health and Environment. (2020). Love my air. Retrieved from
Downtown Denver Partnership. (2019). Great cities are built by people. Retrieved from
Ellis-Petersen, H., Ratcliffe, R., Daniels, J., Cowie, S., & Kuo, L. (2020, April 11).
'It's positively alpine!': Disbelief in big cities as air pollution falls. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/11/positively-alpine-disbelief-air-pollution-falls-lockdown-coronavirus
Environmental Protection Agency (2020, November 06). Progress Cleaning the
Air and Improving People's Health. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/clean-air-act-overview/progress-cleaning-air-and-improving-peoples-health
Finley, B. (2019, December 17). EPA declares Colorado a "serious" violator of federal air quality
standards, forcing stricter efforts to reduce pollution. Retrieved from https://www.denverpost.com/2019/12/16/colorado-air-quality-pollution-standards/
Finley, B. (2020, January 18). What's polluting Colorado's air? 125 million tons a year of
heat-trapping and hazardous gases. Retrieved from https://www.denverpost.com/2020/01/19/colorado-air-pollution/
Krile, J. F., Curphy, G., & Lund, D. R. (2010). The community leadership handbook: Framing
ideas, building relationships, and mobilizing resources (3rd ed.). St. Paul, MN: Fieldstone Alliance.
Pichardo, I. (2020, January 28). Fighting Unhealthy Air Pollution in Denver. Retrieved from https://conservationco.org/2020/01/28/blog-fighting-unhealthy-air-pollution-in-denver/
Regional Institute for Health and Environmental Leadership. (2020). RIHEL: Developing and connecting leaders. Retrieved from https://www.rihel.org/
Reppenhagen, C. (30 Sept. 2020). Did Denver really have the worst air quality in the world last weekend? Retrieved from https://www.msn.com/en-us/weather/topstories/did-denver-really-have-the-worst-air-quality-in-the-world-saturday/ar-BB19y19O
RTD. (2020). RTD. Retrieved from https://www.rtd-denver.com/reports-and-policies/facts-figures
State of Colorado, Dept of Agriculture, Dept of Natural Resources, DPHE, Dept of Transportation, Energy Office. (2020, September 30). Colorado greenhouse gas pollution reduction roadmap. Retrieved from https://www.denvergov.org/content/denvergov/en/environmental-health/our-divisions/environmental-quality/air-quality/love-my-air.html
SchoolDigger.com. (2020). SchoolDigger. Retrieved from https://www.schooldigger.com/
The GrowHaus. (2020). Our Community. Retrieved from
The GrowHaus. (2020). The GrowHaus: Healthy food is a right, not a Privilege. Retrieved from
Woodruff, C. (2019, May 29). What Are Colorado’s Biggest Sources of Air Pollution? Retrieved from https://www.westword.com/news/what-are-colorados-biggest-sources-of-air-pollution-11359921