Phoenix Ranks Top 30 in Smog Pollution

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Environment Arizona Research & Policy Center

Phoenix – Today Environment Arizona released a new report showing that the Phoenix area ranks as the 26th smoggiest large metropolitan area in the country. Smog is a harmful air pollutant that leads to asthma attacks and exacerbates respiratory illnesses, especially among children and the elderly. The new report, Danger in the Air: Unhealthy Air Days in 2010 and 2011 shows that in total, residents in the Phoenix area were exposed to air quality that made it dangerous to breathe on 10 days last year. So far in 2011, Arizona has exceeded the federal ozone standard on 22 days.

“Arizonans deserve clean air. But on far too many days, people in the Phoenix area are exposed to dangerous smog pollution,” said Bret Fanshaw, Advocate with Environment Arizona. “For the sake of our children, we must make every day a safe day to breathe.”

The new report ranks cities in Arizona and across the country for the number of days when the air was unhealthy to breathe due to smog pollution last year and this summer, and includes new data showing that the problem is even worse than the public thought. The research shows that on 15 additional days last year, residents in the Phoenix area were exposed to smog levels that a national scientific panel has found to be dangerous to breathe, but because of outdated federal air quality rules, those at risk were never alerted to unhealthy air levels.

Will Greene with the Arizona Student Environmental Coalition joined Environment Arizona in releasing today’s report at Civic Space Park in downtown Phoenix.

Smog is one of the most harmful air pollutants, and is also one of the most pervasive. Smog is formed when pollution from cars, power plants, and industrial facilities reacts with other pollutants in the presence of sunlight. Smog is of particular concern in the summer months when warmer temperatures lead to the build-up of higher concentrations of smog pollution.

On days with elevated levels of smog pollution, children, the elderly, and people with respiratory illness suffer the most. Children who grow up in areas with high levels of smog may develop diminished lung capacity, putting them at greater risk of lung disease later in life. Additionally, children exposed to smog in the womb can experience lower birth weight and growth retardation. Even among healthy adults, repeated exposure to smog pollution over time permanently damages lung tissues, decreases the ability to breathe normally, exacerbates chronic diseases like asthma, and can even cause premature death.

“Smog puts the lives of kids, students and seniors on the line,” said Will Greene, ASU Chapter President for the Arizona Student Environmental Coalition. “It’s time to protect our health and set strong rules to reduce smog pollution.”

Under the federal Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency is required to set a national standard for smog pollution according to the latest science on air quality and public health. However, the current standard was set at a level that EPA’s own board of independent scientists agree is not adequately protective of public health. The Obama administration considered updating the standard this year to protect public health, but the president decided earlier this month to abandon this effort until 2013. Environment Arizona and prominent public health groups expressed deep disappointment with his decision.

“For too long, smog pollution has left our children gasping for breath,” said Fanshaw. “Unfortunately, rather than acting decisively to protect our kids from dangerous air pollution, President Obama chose to kick the can down the road. Arizona’s kids, senior citizens and those suffering from respiratory problems will suffer as a consequence and certainly deserve better.”

Environment Arizona called on the president to protect the health of Arizona’s children and seniors, and to establish an updated standard for smog pollution that is based on the science. A strong standard could save up to 12,000 lives and prevent up to 58,000 asthma attacks each year.

“We must make every day a safe day to breathe,” said Fanshaw. “President Obama and Arizona’s members of Congress should stand up for Arizonans health and oppose any attacks to the Clean Air Act.