Data Disclaimer

The above air quality data are typically displayed within one to three hours of their collection and are provided for general public awareness only. If you have specific air quality health concerns or are in need of validated air quality data, please contact Jannette Whitcomb at 970-920-5069.

Understanding Ozone

air ozone formation with city and sun compounding oxygen nitrogen and volatile organic compounds

Ozone is a gas that occurs both in the Earth's upper atmosphere and at ground level. In the upper atmosphere ozone is “good” and protects us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. At ground level, ozone is “bad” and is an air pollutant that is harmful to breathe as well as damaging to crops, trees and other vegetation. It is a main ingredient of smog.

Ground level ozone is a secondary pollutant that forms in the air rather than being directly emitted, such as from a tail pipe. Hot weather and sunlight interacting with oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organics (VOC) cause ground-level ozone to form in harmful concentrations in the air we breathe. Weather patterns play an important role in producing ozone. Wind can transport precursor pollutants to Aspen from where they originate. There are also regional weather events that can cause high levels of ozone, such as warm high pressure systems or large scale air stagnation (an air mass that is parked over the same area for several days causing the pollution to build up).

Many urban areas tend to have high levels of "bad" ground-level ozone, but even rural areas are subject to increased ozone levels because wind carries the pollutants that form ozone hundreds of miles away from their original sources.

Health Effects of Ozone

  • Chest pain
  • Congestion
  • Coughing
  • Throat irritation
  • Worsening of bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma

Sources of Ozone

Both natural and human-made sources contribute to emissions of ground level ozone precursors. Emissions from oil and gas drilling and motor vehicle exhaust are thought to be the main sources of NOx and VOC, with gasoline vapors and chemical solvents being lesser sources.Trees emit large amounts of VOCs and lightening releases large amounts of NOx. In Western Colorado, the main human-made source for VOCs is the oil and gas industry and for NOx it is the combustion of fossil fuels.

Monitoring Ozone in Aspen

woman checking air ozone monitoring system

Located near the intersection of Highway 82 and Cemetery Lane, the City’s ozone monitor was installed in December of 2009. This location provides a good indication of the overall ozone levels for Aspen. By monitoring ozone we can determine our compliance with the EPA’s 8-hour standard of 75 ppb. To date, Aspen is in compliance with this standard.

The data from local ozone air quality monitoring also provides information on how Aspen’s air quality is or is not impacted by local sources, weather and regional air quality events, such as wildfires and dust storms. It is also an important public health response tool for staff during regional air quality events. Aspen’s ozone data is available for regional and statewide air quality planning activities.


Please contact Jannette Whitcomb at 970-920-5069 with any ozone questions.