Tucson’s health at risk with 86 dirty air days in 2015

Environment Arizona Research and Policy Center

For Additional Information: Andrew Klutey, [email protected](203) 297-3646

TUCSON – Air pollution remains a major threat to our health, according to a new report from Environment Arizona Research & Policy Center, Our Health at Risk: Why Are Millions of Americans Still Breathing Unhealthy Air? In 2015, people here in Tucson experienced 86 unhealthy air pollution days, increasing the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts.

“As President Trump visits the Grand Canyon state,” said Andrew Klutey, Campaign Coordinator with Environment Arizona, “our report highlights the harmful impact his policies would have on our health. Even one day with unhealthy air is too many.”

“As health care professionals, we want to protect the public health in Arizona and prevent these unnecessary health risks and costs,” added Dr. Barbara Warren of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

In June, elevated levels of ground-level ozone air pollution in the Tucson area caused Pima County officials to issue air quality advisories. Air pollution is one of the most pervasive causes of disease in Arizona and across America. When our air is polluted, we can’t just choose not to breathe it. Air pollution reduces our chance of living long and healthy lives.

Although our air is less polluted than it was 30 years ago, dirty air is still a major health problem. Despite that fact, President Trump is taking an axe to important programs that could help clean up our air. So far, the Trump Administration has:

  • Instructed the EPA to rewrite the Clean Power Plan, the largest step the United States has ever taken to cut dangerous global warming pollution;
  • Proposed to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, a “get out of jail free card” for polluters;
  • Instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back federal clean cars standards that were supposed to prevent 6 billion metric tons of global warming pollution; and
  • Told the Department of Interior to rewrite air pollution regulations for oil and gas drilling.

At the same time, Congress has introduced legislation to roll back federal Clean Car Standards, which would result in approximately 350 million barrels of additional oil being burned, 155 million metric tons of global warming pollution, and an additional $34 billion in fuel costs for Americans.

These actions will have significant health impacts. Blocking the Clean Power Plan alone will slow progress in cleaning our air – leading to 3,600 additional premature deaths, 90,000 more asthma attacks in children, and 300,000 more missed work and school days by 2030.

To protect our health, we must keep cutting soot, smog and carbon pollution,” said Klutey. “We must accelerate our progress, not hit the brakes.”

Our Health at Risk reviews EPA records of air pollution levels across the country, focusing on smog and soot – dangerous pollutants that come from burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. Key findings include:

  • People in Tucson experienced 86 days with elevated smog pollution and 5 days with elevated soot pollution in 2015.
  • Tucson ranked 54th in the nation for worst smog pollution in 2015.
  • Across Arizona, 9 cities had unhealthy levels of air pollution on at least 51 days during 2015, including the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale metropolitan area with 176 bad air days.

Many Arizonans may be exposed to air pollution even more severe than described here because they live in local pollution “hotspots,” such as near freeways, airports and industrial facilities – facing greater health impacts. For example, people who live near highly traveled roads are at increased risk of developing lung cancer, and at greater risk of death from stroke, lung disease and heart disease.

“There’s no safe level of exposure to smog and particulate pollution,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, Policy Analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. “Elevated levels of air pollution – even levels the federal government says are safe for most people – hurt our health.”

“And it’s not just soot and smog,” said Klutey. “We also have to worry about global warming pollution. Warming is extending the smog season across more of the year, and driving up smog levels on hot days. Along with drought, warming is also making wildfires more frequent and intense – causing additional pollution that can travel hundreds of miles.”

Speakers urged Arizona’s elected leaders to stand up to attempts to weaken the Clean Air Act, to maintain the strength of the nation’s Clean Car Standards, and to accelerate our transition to clean energy.

Altogether, during August recess, Environment Arizona gathered more than 100 petition signatures, 800 photos from constituents, and a letter signed by 90 Arizona businesses in support of clean car standards. Today the group will deliver the messages to Senator McCain’s staff here in Tucson.

“In the face of reckless and dangerous actions from the Trump Administration on clean air, Senators McCain and Flake must stand up for our health,” said Klutey. “We urge our senators to defend clean air safeguards and clean cars standards so that dirty air days can become a thing of the past.”