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Pollution Way Up, But Officials Say Air Is Better

December 6, 1985

DENVER (AP) _ Drivers were urged to avoid unnecessary travel in the Denver area Friday as air quality registered ″extremely poor,″ but officials said the ″Better Air Campaign″ was working.

The Pollution Standard Index stood at 240 at midmorning, 40 points beyond the ″poor″ boundary, said Laura Bishard, spokeswoman for the Better Air Campaign.

Better Air is a metropolitan effort aimed at easing the area’s brown cloud of pollution for the eight weeks beginning in November that are traditionally the worst for pollutants trapped by temperature inversions.

Late Thursday, the pollution index reading was 271, Bishard said.

Jim Lents, director of the Air Pollution Control Division of the state health department, admitted at a news conference called to report on Better Air’s progress that high-pollution day prediction isn’t going ″as well as (it) should.″ He compared it to trying to accurately predict snow.

But he said the program is a success because polls show more people know about it and approve of it than a year ago.

During the eight weeks, people are encouraged to drive as little as possible. On days when the pollution is particularly bad, a fifth of the drivers - based on the last digit of license plates - are more strongly urged to leave their cars home. The program is voluntary.

Extremely poor air quality was expected through the afternoon, easing to poor during the evening and maybe becoming ″acceptable″ by late Friday night.

The pollution index is a scale of zero to 300 with zero to 50 rated as good and 201 to 300 as extremely poor. Health officials say extremely poor air quality can affect breathing for the elderly, pregnant women and small children, as well as those with heart and respiratory conditions.

Lents presented statistics gathered in the first two weeks of this year’s program to compare with figures gathered after the inaugural program was completed last winter.

He said 61 percent of those polled this year believe the program will reduce carbon monoxide pollution, compared with 48 percent last year. Thirty- nine percent of those polled understood how to tell if it was their ″no- drive day,″ compared with 60 percent at the end of the first campaign, Lents said.

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