OSCAR Newsletter | February 10, 2022

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February 10, 2022

Welcome to Boulder County's Office of Sustainability, Climate Action, and Resilience (OSCAR) newsletter. This newsletter contains stories and information about our work and ways the public can get involved in sustainability and climate action initiatives.

Resilience after the Marshall Fire

Zac Swank

Zac Swank

Built Environment Coordinator for the Office of Sustainability, Climate Action & Resilience

Our neighbors who lost their homes in the Marshall Fire are victims of our collective lack of action on climate change.

Tackling the climate crisis is not something that individuals can do alone. Boulder County has been working for years to reduce climate impacts, but even action from local governments isn't enough. We need larger and faster changes to prevent tragedies, like the Marshall Fire, from happening again. Our systems need pressure from all sides of society to have a meaningful impact.

Individual action is important — however, individual action alone is not enough to avoid climate catastrophes like this. We are where we are because of the policy decisions, systems, and institutions that uphold the status quo. It will take our collective pressure on institutions across the United States to change our trajectory.

It is clear that the opportunity to avoid the climate emergency has passed. We are now living with it; Boulder County has been in a continuous stage of fire or flood recovery for the last decade. The models predict that it will only get worse. Adaptation and resiliency efforts around the climate emergency are now integral components of our lives in 2022.

As we rebuild after the Marshall Fire, we want to make sure that our community is not only more resilient and better able to bounce back from a climate disaster, but that it doesn't continue to contribute to the climate emergency itself.

I am privileged to be part of a collaboration between Boulder County, the City of Louisville, the Town of Superior, the State of Colorado, Xcel Energy, and others who are figuring out how best to help those who have lost their houses rebuild comfortable, efficient, high-performance homes with minimal climate impacts.

Sadly, with our rebuilding efforts, we are benefiting from the work that others towns across the United States have already done after they have been devastated by fire. It is my solemn hope that we can also contribute to the body of knowledge that will help other communities recover from climate disasters in the future. We are all in this together and I am confident we will recover and rebuild in ways that are more sustainable and resilient. 

— Zac

Every year, millions of acres of land are consumed by fire in the United States. By raising temperatures, melting snow sooner, and drying soils and forests, climate change is fueling the problem. The Union of Concerned Scientists visualizes the connection between wildfires and climate change in the infographic below and in five sets of photos and charts.

Jennifer Balch, a fire scientist and the director of Earth Lab at the University of Colorado, explains the climate fingerprints she sees on the Marshall Fire in this interview with Colorado Public Radio. 

Fire Infographic

Source: The Union of Concerned Scientists

Five food and beverage companies selected for pollution reduction program

Boulder County invited food and beverage manufacturers to apply to participate in an EPA-supported pilot program assisting the transition to pollution-reduced and sustainable packaging formats. After receiving 30 applications, five local businesses were chosen to participate in the Boulder County Food & Beverage Pollution-Reduced Packaging Pilot.

“The teams have unique challenges, sustainability goals, and products," said Deandra Croissant, Boulder County Sustainability Specialist. "This makes for a diverse pilot that will help us gain insights on the cost and environmental performance of various pollution-reduced packaging types. We're looking forward to seeing what's possible when it comes to circular design and improved environmental performance of food and beverage packaging.”

Selected businesses and projects:

Future Fit FoodsImplementing a pilot to replace single-use corrugated shipping boxes with RePack reusable envelopes; identifying an industrial compostable ink; implementing packaging trials to test edible and home compostable packaging currently in the prototype stage.

HävenlySeeking environmentally friendly packaging for baked goods and bake-at-home bread mixes. Areas of interest include cellulose bags, re-sealable compostable kraft tin-tie bags, and environmentally friendly yeast packaging alternatives.

Pastificio BoulderSeeking naturally biodegradable and recyclable solutions for paperboard packaging that avoid bleached paper products and toxic glue adhesives.

Quinn SnacksExploring recyclable or compostable packaging options for their line of microwave popcorn products.

The Tea SpotResearching alternatives for their stand up pouches and other tea packaging material.

Read more about the program, here

The Tea Spot

Maria Uspenski, Founder and CEO, The Tea Spot

Keep It Clean Partnership launches new website

Keep It Clean Partnership's new website is a resource for residents, businesses, teachers, and stormwater professionals looking to learn more about watersheds, stormwater, and ways they can take action to protect water quality in the Boulder St. Vrain basin. Here are some of the resources you can find on the new site:

  • Learn: Explore the basics of watersheds, stormwater, common pollutants, and water quality issues.
  • Our Watershed: Find in-depth information about water quality issues in the Boulder St. Vrain watershed.
  • Resources: Resident resources, in both English and Spanish, that help people take action and protect water quality.
  • Get Involved: Get help setting up a stream cleanup or find events, activities, and volunteer opportunities in the Boulder St. Vrain Watershed.
  • Report Pollution: Launching soon. An easy-to-use form that residents in the Boulder St. Vrain Watershed can use to report pollution in their community.

Take a moment to explore it for yourself here.

Keep It Clean

We're hiring!

Boulder County's Office of Sustainability, Climate Action & Resilience is hiring a Bilingual Climate Equity Specialist. This position will be responsible for advancing OSCAR's equity goals, working across departments to strengthen collaboration on race and justice, and building trust and deepening relationships with the county’s most climate-vulnerable communities. 

Learn more about the role and apply here by February 13, 2022 at 11:59 p.m. 

Recent News

Marshall Fire

Boulder and its co-plaintiffs, Boulder County and San Miguel County, home to Telluride, estimated the damage caused by extreme weather events would cost them more than $100 million by 2050. As it turns out, they overestimated the time span—and underestimated the price tag.

Read more in The Union of Concerned Scientists.


Appeals Court confirms that historic climate lawsuit will proceed in state court

In the first ruling of its kind, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that the historic climate accountability lawsuits filed by Boulder County, San Miguel County, and the City of Boulder will continue to proceed in state, rather than federal, court. This decision sets a precedent for more than two dozen similar cases across the country.

Read more at EarthRights International.

Marshall Fire destruction

Boulder County Commissioners to the Boulder County Community and President Biden: This is a climate emergency

“Boulder County has been hit by climate-related disaster upon disaster,” said Commissioner Matt Jones, who had to evacuate his own home in Louisville because of the Marshall Fire. “Beyond the challenging emotional impacts to our community, recovery from these tragic events are time-consuming, resource-draining, and very costly.”

Read more here.

Air Quality and Public Health

Air Quality and Marshall Fire recovery

Preliminary analysis of outdoor air measurements conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in areas affected by the Marshall Fire has found that levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are comparable to ordinary urban air pollution.

NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Laboratory sampled outdoor air in Louisville, Superior, and affected areas of unincorporated Boulder County with their mobile van 11 to 14 days after the fire. Smoke from urban fires that burn vehicles, homes, and other modern structures can produce unhealthy gasses, like benzene and toluene, as a result of the combustion of synthetic or manufactured building materials, furniture, everyday household products, as well as plastic, rubber and other automotive components. While NOAA’s measurements showed the presence of some VOC gasses, the initial analysis indicated they were at levels similar to normal air pollution found in and around cities.

Boulder County Public Health (BCPH) will conduct future measurements and issue warnings if air quality changes.

Residents should also be aware of their indoor air quality. The ash and soot from the fire contain VOCs and other harmful contaminants, such as heavy metals, that can linger in homes if not properly removed. Particulates are microscopic and may appear as ash in some homes and may not be visible in others. Take care not to track ash into your home on shoes or clothing.

BCPH recommends getting HVAC ducts cleaned by a professional as soon as possible and replacing filters as soon as they appear soiled. If possible, use the highest level of filtration recommended by the HVAC manufacturer and consider installing an activated carbon pre-filter to help reduce odors.

BCPH also recommends that on windy days, people in the burn areas and the surrounding communities limit outdoor activity or stay inside and keep windows and doors closed. If you must be outside on a windy day, wearing an N95 mask is highly recommended. Anyone with respiratory illnesses is advised to talk with their health care provider about what they can do to stay safe.

If you experience non-specific health effects (headaches, eye irritation or nosebleeds), BCPH recommends consulting a professional regarding cleaning and restoration as these may be symptoms of odor-free contaminants that can cause irritation.

Poor air quality can cause some of the same symptoms as COVID-19. If you are experiencing symptoms similar to COVID-19, talk to your health care provider, do not go to work or school, stay home, get tested and follow guidance on isolation and quarantine.

For more information on the Marshall fire, visit boco.org/marshallfire.


Meet the Team

Christian Herrmann, Climate Communications Specialist


What do you do at OSCAR? I manage OSCAR's communications around air quality, sustainability, and climate change. My work runs the gamut from copy writing, press relations, graphic design, videography, and photography to social media management.

Hometown? I was born in Singapore and spent the biggest chunk of my adult life in England, but I grew up in Niwot, Colorado and consider that my hometown.

Favorite book?  Howards End by E.M. Forster or White Teeth by Zadie Smith — both, pretty much, are variations on the same theme. It doesn't really count as a book, but also The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. 

Favorite movie? Since the Marshall Fire, I've been rewatching Benh Zeitlin's powerful short film Glory at Sea, which was adapted into the feature-length movie, Beasts of the Southern Wild (you can watch Glory at Sea in its entirety, here). It's a parable about Hurricane Katrina and how a community adapts and rebuilds after disaster. West Side Story, Flee, and Cyrano were my favorite films of 2021. 

What are you watching right now? Loving Euphoria, Hacks, and The White Lotus. Also We're Here, which is a series that follows a trio of drag queens across America as they put on drag shows in different small towns. Start with the episode set in Twin Falls, Idaho or the one set in Farmington, New Mexico at the edge of the Navajo Nation. 

What are you reading right now? I've been on a Greek mythology kick and recently finished The Song of Achilles (which is the Iliad told from the perspective of Achilles' lover, Patroclus) and Circe (the Odyssey told from the perspective of the witch Circe) — both are written by Madeline Miller. Was wiping away tears at the end of both novels. I'm also in the middle of the late Anthony Veasna So's Afterparties, a collection of short stories set in California's Cambodian diaspora, and Michelle Zauner's Crying in H Mart, a memoir based on her New Yorker essay with the same title that opens with the line "Ever since my mom died, I cry in H Mart." If you know what H Mart is, you get it.

Events Calendar

APPLICATION DEADLINE: Bilingual Climate Equity Specialist

February 13, 2022

11:59 p.m.

Boulder County's Office of Sustainability, Climate Action & Resilience is hiring a Bilingual Climate Equity Specialist.

The posting is open through February 13, 2022.

For more information and to apply, visit the Boulder County careers website

WEBINAR: Forests, Fires, and People: The Marshall Fire Tragedy and the Changing Wildland Urban Interface

February 16, 2022

5 p.m.

What can science teach us about living with fire in the ever-expanding wildland urban interface? Join fire scientist Jennifer Balch and Boulder County Commissioner Matt Jones in this webinar presented by the Institute for Science & Policy at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

RSVP here