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State of the Air: Pima County gets a failing grade, but ozone pollutants are dropping

Published: Apr. 21, 2021 at 5:51 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - According to the American Lung Association’s annual State of the Air report, Pima County does not pass with flying colors when it comes to ozone pollution levels — in fact, it received an “F.”

However, data seems to be going in the right direction.

A dusty Wednesday marked the release of the report in Tucson. Some air monitors around Pima County dipped from “good” to “moderate” as winds picked up particulate matter on April 21, 2021. Red flag warnings went into effect in parts of southern Arizona and high winds in Pinal County lead the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office to warn drivers of blowing dust after a one-car collision.

The temperatures and weather mark the start of the “ozone season” in Arizona.

“We have a very big ozone season,” said Matt Pace, meteorologist for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. “We have a lot of sunshine. We have long days. We don’t have a lot of clouds, [and] that allows ozone to build up very quickly.”

Ozone pollution mainly comes from cars. According to the American Lung Association, Gila, Maricopa, Pima, Pinal and Yuma counties all received failing grades in their annual report when it comes to ozone pollution. Phoenix ranked the fifth most polluted city in its annual report and Tucson dropped to 54th.

However, the good news is, the general trend in ozone pollution is actually decreasing.

“There’s clearly a significant downward trend over time,” said Ursula Nelson, director of the Pima County Department Environmental Quality.

Phoenix has seen about a 20 percent decrease in ozone since the 80s, according to ADEQ.

“Despite some nationwide progress on cleaning up air pollution, more than 40 percent of Americans still live with unhealthy ozone or particle pollution,” said JoAnna Strother, with the American lung Association in Arizona.

“We are right at the federal health basic air quality standards,” Nelson said.

The county isn’t wavering too far from having too much ozone pollution in the air. Pima County has exceeded EPA ozone standards before, but if it consistently rises above the blue line now, there could be repercussions for certain industries like dry cleaners, automotive products, pesticides and more.

“We’ll have to put additional rules and regulations that will affect the community, businesses both large and small and perhaps consumers,” Nelson said.

The pandemic saw a small blip of a decrease in pollutants, but there is not enough data yet to show how or if this trend continues. However, experts said it shows driving less can help air quality.

But, even with a decrease, Pace said there’s a long way to go.

“It shows that everywhere still needs to do more and we can all do our part to help clean the air that we breathe,” Pace said.

The Departments of Environmental Quality said reducing trips in the car, carpooling or telecommuting and not idling are all ways to reduce the amount of ozone pollution put out into the air.

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