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How Arizona wildfires contribute to state’s air quality

Experts say it's due at least in part because of fire pollution.
Experts say it's due at least in part because of fire pollution.(Arizona's Family)
Published: Apr. 23, 2022 at 9:32 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - It’s not just the people in the line of fire that are being impacted by the wind, smoke, and flames. Another danger from fires like the Tunnel Fire or the Crooks fire is in the air we breathe. The American Lung Association (ALA) has a new report out; In it, Arizona was ranked one of the worst states when it comes to air quality. But it wasn’t always this way.

“It was that hot dry air that we felt was good for the lungs,” Arizona family physician Dr. Andrew Carroll said. “And that’s why a lot of people moved here.” However, as more and more people have moved to Arizona, air pollution has gotten worse.

This year’s ALA report findings showed 84 percent of Arizonans live in an area that gets a failing grade for air quality. There’s also more particle pollution in our state compared to last year. “It’s not whether you’re going to be exposed to it,” University of Arizona School of Natural Resources professor Don Falk said. “It’s when, and if you get to choose.”

Falk says inhaling smoke and dust particles like those near the Tunnel and Crooks fires can immediately impact breathing in the short term. Carroll also says this air pollution can lead to long-term health issues ranging from emphysema to heart disease.

“Long-term, we know that it can shorten your life for other reasons,” he said. “When you have more homes being built, more buildings being built, more businesses coming to town, that’s going to kick up a lot of particulate matter and that’s going to stay in our environment.”

The ALA says that investing in more renewable energy sources, whether that’s a car or electricity, can help lower pollution. Carroll says as long as the combination of wildfires and an increasing population exists here in Arizona, pollution will too.

“We know that when the wildfires kick up, it makes it a lot worse,” he said. “It may not be close to you. But sometimes when you go out in the morning, you can smell those wildfires.”

If you’d like to check out the smoke forecasts for areas near any current wildfires in Arizona, you can do so at the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s website.