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Denver has the Worst Air Quality in the Country

Updated: Apr 10, 2021

As Denver continues to pave over green spaces and piles in more housing and more cars cram onto our roads, Denver's air pollution gets worse and worse.

Denver Yimby: Denver had the worst air pollution in the country, 7th in the world on March 19, 2021

Last week, the National Weather Service issued an Air Quality Alert for Denver and surrounding cities on March 19, 2021. On Friday, according to, Fort Lupton had the worst air quality index at 163 while Denver's was lower but still at an unhealthy 153.

This put Denver at #7 for the worst air quality of the big cities around the entire world. Anything over 150 is considered unhealthy for everyone.

As our city planners and city council go against their constituents by removing zoning barriers so that developers can continue to demolish our most affordable historic homes and green spaces to build overpriced skyrises to stack more people in, our air quality just gets worse.

Increasing Density isn't helping. Denver is in the top 10 for having built the most apartments in the last decade, and our air pollution has increased substantially. Our former blue skies nearly everyday all year have turned to cloudy and hazy more and more frequently. If you drive into Denver from the south, you'll see a giant purple cloud hanging over Denver on most days.

Where is most of this air pollution coming from? Vehicles.

From people driving to work, to the store, to schools or events, or heading up to the mountains for a day hike or to ski for the weekend – it all adds up to terrible air quality.

Denver's public transportation system is extremely limited and inconvenient, and, despite what the developers and city planners will argue, most people WILL have cars. The only reason developers argue that people won't have cars is so that they can negotiate less parking when building skyrises – leaving the burden of the additional residents' vehicles to the neighborhoods and roads surrounding these new buildings. The back-to-back pollution-puffing traffic going through the Eisenhower tunnel has rapidly increased over the past decade with more than 1.3 million more cars passing through the tunnel than 10 years ago. In 2019, the tunnel had an average of 35,931 vehicles spewing pollution into our air on a daily basis. That's over 13 million+ vehicles a year now going through the tunnel. See the statistics below that show tunnel traffic of 2019 compared to 2009.

Denver Yimby: Increase of traffic through Eisenhower Tunnel from non-stop building and population growth

Source: Right now, if you want to go to the mountains, there is no affordable public transportation – and since most of the people moving here are planning on escaping the polluted skies of Denver to head to the mountains, cars are currently a necessity to do this. While people being warehoused in cramped apartments on busy roads like Colfax in Denver may not have a brand-new Prius, most will still have whatever older vehicle they can afford.

Denver Yimby: Out of control growth in Denver causing air pollution

Construction Pollution:

Air pollution from construction sites everywhere around our city adds to Denver's big air pollution problem. Construction vehicles are also prominent on our roads and highways, carrying debris from destroyed historic well-built homes to the landfills, and bringing in new materials to build lesser-quality overpriced buildings in their place, all while cramming more people into neighborhoods, who bring in hundreds more cars along with each new building.

Read more about Denver's hazy March 19, 2021 that earned Denver 7th place for the most polluted air in the world's cities:

Denver seems to be in self-destruct mode.

While our city council and planners remove barriers to entice developers to scrape properties and build skyrises, our air pollution continues to worsen and is so hazardous that they often tell us to "restrict driving" and to "stay indoors" to protect our health. How is Denver such a destination for people moving here? We have some of the worst traffic and the worst air pollution in the country. This isn't a healthy place to live, and it certainly hasn't become any more affordable in the past 10 years, even though we're in the top 10 for having built the most apartments in the country!

Denver Yimby: Air Pollution caused by Density and Cars

We all need to start considering how to improve Denver rather than just letting it spiral out of control. We should ride bikes and take the limited public transportation whenever we can to run errands or commute to jobs.

We can also work with our employers more now than ever (thanks to the pandemic) in negotiating working from home when possible – to avoid having to commute to work everyday, saving both time and resources. We should all work to limit our own population growth through the responsible use of birth control – and tell people, especially women, that it is not only OK not to have children, but is actually a good thing! There are plenty of children already here in the world, we should work to take care of every one by fostering, teaching, adopting, volunteering – there are ways to have children in your life without adding more to our already overburdened world.

Concrete, concrete everywhere near 8th & Colorado
Concrete, concrete everywhere near 8th & Colorado

We also should work to figure out more things we can do within our own city to make it a place that we don't feel the urge to escape. Who wants to live in a concrete jungle? We need to protect any and all open spaces and landscapes, we need to replace thirsty toxic lawns in our parkways, parks and landscapes with more native plants, shrubs and trees to help clean the air and cool the city, while providing habitat for wildlife and a outdoor places for us to explore and decompress.

We should try to cut back on noise pollution and air pollution by restricting this unchecked growth to be more sustainable. We should be working to preserve well-built historic buildings rather than bulldozing them to build something new. How can we repurpose the now-vacant office spaces in sky rises in Denver to be more affordable housing and facilities for those experiencing homeless rather than building something entirely new? How can we improve what we already have?

Here's some statistics from the American Lung Association, that shows that Denver is in the top 10 in the nation for having the worst smog:

Yimby Denver: Denver has the worst air pollution according to American Lung Association
Yimby Denver: Denver has the Worst Air Pollution

Attention Denver City Planners and Voters:

It's time to start PLANNING how to make our city better, rather than just planning on how we can cram more people in and make more money off of properties. Let's treasure our parks, community gardens, and open spaces rather than seeing them as a commodity to sell and build upon. Let's build our own network of parks so that we can stay and enjoy our city without having to escape to the mountains. Let's make Denver better.



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