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Air Quality Program

On average, each person breathes more than 3,000 gallons of air each day. When pollutants released from tailpipes and smokestacks get into the air we breathe, it can cause health problems — including asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory problems. The health, environmental, and economic impacts of air pollution are significant — making clean air one of our most precious natural resources. 

Denver Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE) is a national leader when it comes to understanding and improving air quality at the local and regional levels. As technology, regulations, and the science around air quality continue to evolve, so too does our commitment to making Denver a world-class city where everyone who breathes matters!


Spectacular views and closeness to nature are just a couple of reasons why people choose to live in Denver. However, Denver's location at the foot of the Rocky Mountains makes it prone to temperature inversions in which warm air traps cooler air near the ground, preventing pollutants from rising into the atmosphere. From the 1970s into the early 1980s, the Denver area exceeded certain EPA air quality standards nearly 200 days annually. By the 1970s, air pollution hanging over the city even had a name — the brown cloud. 

Since the 1980s through today, stricter federal emission guidelines for vehicles led to several technological advancements in engine design including catalytic converters, fuel injection and oxygen sensors. Industrial sources were also required to install pollution controls and implement best practices.

Since 1995, Denver is in attainment for all pollutants except ozone and the looming brown cloud is visibly reduced. Ozone continues to be a persistent problem during the summer and current activities are focused on reducing ground-level ozone.

The Environmental Quality Division (EQD) is responsible for conducting compliance inspections of air emissions sources, enforcing state and local laws, monitoring pollutant trends, participating in legislative rulemakings, and working with community and industry partners. Following are brief descriptions of each of the EQD’s program areas:

Air Dispersion Modeling: The division uses computer models to predict ambient concentrations of hazardous air pollutants. Emissions from stationary, mobile and area-wide sources have been included in the modeling. Model predictions have been compared with measured concentrations to help evaluate the model performance and/or the emissions inventory.

Air dispersion modeling image

Asbestos: The division responds to complaints about asbestos contamination, inspects facilities undergoing remodeling or demolition that contains asbestos, and reviews permits.

Compliance Inspections: The division inspects large and small industrial, manufacturing and commercial air pollution sources located in the City and County of Denver for compliance with state and federal laws, state air pollution permits and local city ordinances. This includes inspections of facilities that emit criteria and hazardous air pollutants, as well as air conditioning sources that emit chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s), which harm the earth’s protective ozone layer.

Fugitive Particulates: EQD responds to complaints received about fugitive dust and inspects industrial and construction sources of fugitive dust. Call 3-1-1 if you observe a fugitive dust problem.

Mobile Sources: The division enforces the City’s smoking and idling vehicle ordinances, promotes the use of alternative fuels and alternative transportation and coordinates the City’s Green Fleets program.

Odors: Odors are regulated in the City and County of Denver, and the entire State of Colorado, as a nuisance issue — as opposed to a health issue. One of the difficulties faced by this and other environmental health departments is that odors, like other pollutants, do not abide by jurisdictional boundaries. Denver citizens are impacted by odor generating sources that are located outside of the city.

Open Burning/Wood Burning: The division enforces Denver’s ban on open burning, issues permits for variances to the ordinance and responds to complaints. The division is also responsible for enforcing Denver’s ban on wood burning on “red” pollution days, reviewing permits for variances to the wood burning ordinance, and responding to complaints. The use of chimneys, fire pits, patio or outdoor “fireplace” devices or structures are all restricted under either the open burning or wood burning ordinances.

Don’t Be an SOV (Single Occupant Vehicle)

Changing how you commute just one day a week saves you time and money, and improves Denver’s air quality! Learn more at:

When You Stop, Turn Your Engine Off!

Turning your engine off is one of the easiest and most efficient steps you can take to improve air quality. Whether you’re waiting in line to pick up your child from school or stuck waiting for a train — turn your engine off!

Clean air? we can do it graphic. Shows picture of woman in car with her keys out of the ignition, message is "when you stop, turn your engine off!"

Keep Your Car Maintained

Regular maintenance and tune-ups improve gas mileage and extend the life of your car. By keeping up with car maintenance, you can reduce harmful pollutants by more than half!

Burn Wise

During the wintertime, residential wood smoke is a main source of fine particle pollution and contributes to degraded air quality days in many areas across Colorado. Check for air quality advisories before you burn

Mow When the Sun is Low

By not mowing in the hot mid-day sun, you are also helping reduce the  creation of harmful ground-level ozone, which can lead ti respiratory problems for sensitive populations.

Conserve Energy at Home

Cutting down on energy consumption goes a long way toward reducing air pollution. Better insulation and energy-efficient lighting are just a few of the easy ways to reduce energy use. Learn more about Home Energy.


The Air Quality Community Action Network (AQ-CAN) is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge.

As one of the fastest-growing U.S. cities, Denver is experiencing significant increases in construction and traffic congestion, worsening our air quality.  

Air pollution harms everyone, but children are more susceptible to its acute and long-term health effects, including decreased lung function, increased respiratory infections, missed days of school and over $3,100 in annual asthma-related healthcare costs per child.  

Some children experience the effects even more profoundly. The average rate of asthma in the top half of public schools is 75 percent higher than Denver’s average pediatric asthma rate. Children have one chance to grow healthy lungs, and air pollution is causing serious health problems—limiting future opportunities. While multiple factors influence a child’s exposure to air pollution, schools are an ideal intervention point for education and empowerment.  

The vision of AQ-CAN is to gather real-time, hyper-local air quality data and programming empowering communities, families, and schools to limit exposure and reduce pollution through behavior change, advocacy, and community engagement. Using the rich social networks of schools, we will co-design and deliver air quality and respiratory health education, behavioral interventions, school-based community challenges, and other programming to empower people and communities, decreasing the health and financial burden of air pollution for the most vulnerable Denver residents.


In 2016, 88,185 children attended public schools in Denver. School data show that 9,892 of these students have asthma, which is 11.2 percent of enrollment. Non-asthmatic children are also at serious risk for developing asthma and respiratory-related problems. Living in one of the top 10 cities with the worst air quality in the U.S., according to the American Lung Association, all 700,000 Denver residents are affected by exposure to high levels of air pollution, especially the 141,500 children under the age of 18.

Denver’s project will deliver real-time, hyper-local air quality data and programming to 61,986 people when fully implemented. This number includes community members, students, and parents, and it was calculated utilizing 2016 school enrollment and staff data from the 100 schools with the highest rates of students with asthma and by estimating an average of 1.5 parents per student.   

Additionally, this information will help to empower the community to use this real-time air quality data to protect their respiratory health.

AQ-CAN is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies. Bloomberg Philanthropies works in over 120 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation, and Public Health. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s charitable activities, including his foundation and his personal giving. In 2016, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $600 million. For more information, please visit

Denver is one of 35 Champion Cities selected as finalists in the 2018 U.S. Mayors Challenge, a nationwide competition that encourages city leaders to uncover bold, inventive ideas that confront the toughest problems cities face. The Champion Cities will now begin a six-month testing phase during which they will conduct public prototypes of their ideas with grant funding of up to $100,000 per city, a new addition to the Competition this year. 

Denver now advances to the six-month “Test, Learn, and Adapt” phase of the competition. Cities will refine their ideas during this process with up to $100,000, as well as personalized support from innovation experts, to test and begin building support for their urban innovations and submit a new application in August 2018. In October, four cities will receive $1 million awards and one will receive a grand prize of $5 million to bring their ideas to life.

The 35 Champion Cities performed the best against four key criteria: vision, potential for impact, implementation plan, and potential to spread to other cities. 

AQ-CAN is also affiliated with Denver Smart City.

AQ-CAN is currently still in development, and the 10 selected Denver Public Schools campuses will be announced soon. Check back here for more information.







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