Click play to listen to the Altitude and Healthy Air: Air Quality at Higher Elevations article.
Mountain air has a storied reputation for being so fresh and so clean. While that’s often true, air quality at higher elevations is also at risk of becoming severely polluted and a threat to the health of humans and ecosystems, alike.
Large cities are prone to ground-level ozone, or smog, created by power plants, refineries, and automobiles. Take Denver, for example. At 5,280 feet above sea level, it’s one of the highest altitude major cities in the United States. And with a population of over 700,000, there’s an immense amount of human activity adding pollutants to the air. In 2021, Denver was named the eighth most ozone-polluted city in the country by the American Lung Association.
This is due in part to the fact that, at high altitudes, atmospheric pressure is reduced, and oxygen is less available (commonly referred to as the air being “thinner”). This has a couple of effects on air quality for the people in the area. First, combustion engines perform less efficiently than they do at lower altitudes, causing an increase in emissions. Second, UV rays from the sun have a greater impact at high elevations, leading to an increase in photochemical smog, the result of airborne pollutants reacting with sunlight.
Coupled with lower oxygen levels, this airborne pollution can have more of an impact on people’s health. It also can impact ecosystems, as higher levels of nitrogen in the air (as part of smog) causes soil acidification and makes it more difficult for certain native plants to get the nutrients they need to thrive.
While mitigating the impacts on the climate will take large-scale policy changes, there are steps people can take to ensure the health of the air they breathe at higher elevations.
To experience the safety and peace of mind that comes with Healthy Air in your home, consider an AprilAire whole-house ventilation system. It pushes out dirty, stagnant air and pulls in fresh air from outside. To remove contaminants from outdoor air, an AprilAire whole-house air purifier paired with MERV 16 air filters captures smog and air pollution.