Steamboat Springs The days of Steamboat's brown cloud of air pollution are five years in the past, but local government officials say they are constantly monitoring the situation, just to be sure. And there's a relatively new weapon in the battle real time computer data about the grit in Steamboat's air that lets the city street superintendent react swiftly to building air pollution.
"Now we have hourly readings every day," City of Steamboat Springs Street Superintendent Doug Marsh said. "It's good to know because when the numbers start going up, we can put another street sweeper into action."
The primary source of Steamboat particulate air pollution is the sand and gravel both city and state crews spread on the roads. Automobile and truck tires constantly grind the sand and gravel into dust, which is then kicked up into the air. It can remain suspended there, casting a pallor over downtown.
Street sweepers are the chief weapons being used in the effort to curtail that pollution. But Marsh said air pollution levels are lower than ever this year, and he attributes that in part to the Colorado Department of Transportation's increasing reliance on a chemical called magnesium chloride over sand to control ice on Lincoln Avenue.
County Environmental Health Director Mike Zopf said the city has succeeded in reversing its air pollution by encouraging the replacement of wood stoves with clean burning natural gas appliances, as well as by aggressive street sweeping.
"The city has gone well beyond what is required," Zopf said Tuesday. "We have not had an exceedance since Feb. 13, 1996. It seems like we're accommodating growth without increasing particulate matter in the valley, which is something we feel very good about."
Marsh and Zopf could keep tabs on the air pollution situation 24 hours a day if they were so inclined. Zopf and Marsh receive a constant flow of data about tiny particles of sand and carbon suspended in the air above downtown Steamboat. The data streams from a rooftop monitoring station on top of the Routt County Courthouse into their offices.
Public Works Director Jim Weber, attributes the city's ability to stay in compliance with air quality standards even as the community grows, to the real time data. It allows Marsh to anticipate building problems with particulate pollutions and react quickly with his street sweeping crews. Previously, the city might have found out weeks after the fact that it had experienced a problem. The city recently replaced both of its existing street sweepers with two new "dustless models" at combined cost of more than $250,000.
There are days, Marsh said, when one or both of the street sweepers run virtually around the clock. There is an operator who begins work at midnight who sweeps streets when they are dry and he isn't snowplowing. Two more operators begin work at 4 a.m. and their marching orders are the same.