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Manitou Springs approves purchase of $5,000 air quality sensor to monitor Martin Drake

July 26, 2017 Updated: July 27, 2017 at 9:25 am
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Martin Drake Power Plant shot from Gold Hill Mesa on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. Carol Lawrence, The Gazette

The Manitou Springs City Council will be buying its own air quality monitor to detect pollutants it believes are drifting northwest from the Martin Drake Power Plant in downtown Colorado Springs.

The $5,000 monitor is not approved by the Environmental Protection Agency as adequate for air quality data collection under the Clean Air Act. Monitors approved by the EPA usually cost between $50,000 and $80,000, and the cost to operate the devices and analyze the data is about $25,000.

The decision comes after city leaders argued that the monitor operated by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment near Highway 24 and South 8th Street isn't located where it can track the effects of the coal-fired plant's emissions on residential areas such as Manitou Springs.

"With this purchase, our City Council is being as environmentally conscious and as responsive to citizen requests as possible," Manitou Springs City Councilwoman Coreen Toll said.

The state Health Department is required to use an EPA-approved monitor for its data collection.

"We're required to use monitors that have been approved by the EPA as reference for our air quality studies," Gordan Pierce, technical services manager for the state Health Department's Air Pollution Control Division. "We do look at data from other types of monitors, though, and can use those in consideration."

According to Toll, the Manitou Springs City Council could not foot the bill for an EPA-approved monitor.

Despite the cheaper monitor not being EPA approved, local activists lauded the council's decision.

"It's important for the Manitou Springs City Council to show its citizens that they care about a serious city health problem," Jacquie Ostrom, a local clean air activist said.

The state Health Department and Colorado Springs Utilities are currently collecting data for a modeling study to classify the plant's sulfur dioxide levels in the surrounding area. The model is expected to be completed later this summer, according to Utilities.

"We look forward to sharing the results with our customers," said the spokeswoman for Utilities, Amy Trinidad. "As far as Manitou Springs purchasing a monitor, we assume they are working with the appropriate state health agency in its efforts,"

According to Pierce's response to the City Council's public comment on the study, the current monitor location meets the criteria of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Toll explained that she consulted with Manitou Springs' computer systems engineer, Francois Raab, to find an affordable monitor with accurate data collection capabilities.

The monitor selected by Raab, made by Oregon-based air quality monitor manufacturer Apis, monitors sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and other harmful emissions.

Apis president and CEO Robert Beckius said that the monitor was previously installed next to an EPA-approved monitor for one to three months and the results were comparable.

"Air quality sensors are getting better and are more accurate," Beckius said. "For a fraction of the cost of a regulation monitor, we can install multiple monitors and get a gist of air quality in a high-density area like Manitou Springs."

Manitou Springs City Council plans to purchase the monitor in the next few weeks and has not selected a location site yet.

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