Looking to get away to the mountains of Colorado to breath clean air? Forget it, says a new research study.

Ozone Colorado

Ozone-causing chemicals drifting into the mountains

Researchers have found surprising levels of air pollution along northern Colorado’s Front Ridge. The pollution contains harmful ozone and ozone-causing chemicals that are drifting into the mountains from both urban and rural areas.

“People (are) thinking you go into the mountains and you breathe the fresh air — that’s not always the case,” Gabriele Pfister, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder and one of the principal investigators on the project, was quoted as saying in an AP report. “All the way up to the Continental Divide you can find ozone.”

Ozone can cause breathing problems, harm agricultural crops and vegetation and is generally caused by automobile traffic, power plants as well as generated through oil and gas production.

Ozone levels in Rocky Mountain National Park

The mountains are now witnessing ozone levels close to or in some cases greater than levels found at lower elevation, according to fellow NCAR scientist and researcher Frank Flocke who worked on the project.  Ozone has been specifically identified in Rocky Mountain National Park, which is around 60 miles northwest of Denver.

“We view Rocky Mountain National Park as a refuge, and to learn there are days when it’s not as safe as we think of it as, it’s something people should know,” James Crawford of NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., was quoted as saying.

While ozone is created at lower elevations in cities such as Denver and Bolder, the gas is diluted as it moves into the mountains. However, the issue is as it moves higher in elevation more ozone gas is created.

Scientists are not clear regarding the consequences of mountain ozone and are still early in their study.  Flocke noted that common logic would indicate ozone would have the same harmful effects in the mountains that it has at lower elevations.

In the mountains, just as in major cities, there are good and bad ozone days, which is good for study and benchmarking of the problem, the researchers say. The results of their complete work are scheduled to be released by the end of the year.