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Tucson air pollution hits harmful level, Pima County warns

Air pollution in the Tucson metro area hit harmful levels on Friday, prompting an advisory from Pima County that residents should avoid intense physical outdoor activity because of the amount of ground-level ozone.

“Individuals who are especially sensitive to air pollution may experience shortness of breath, coughing, throat irritation, wheezing and breathing discomfort,” county officials said.

The advisory suggests limiting levels of exertion outside between noon and 6 p.m., especially for anyone sensitive to air pollution.

In 2021, the first ozone advisory of the year was issued on June 14.

PDEQ issued the advisory because the county agency detected high amounts of ground-level ozone in the Tucson metro area’s air. Ground-level ozone commonly comes from car exhaust, industrial and power plant emissions and volatile organic compounds, or hydrocarbons, that react with heat and sunlight, PDEQ said.

People who might be sensitive to ozone include children, adults who are active outdoors, people with respiratory diseases and certain individuals who have an unusual sensitivity to this particular pollutant, PDEQ said. Anyone feeling symptoms should seek medical attention, the advisory warns.

According to the advisory, intense physical outdoor activity also allows ozone to penetrate into part of the lungs more likely to be injured.

PDEQ recommended the following actions to reduce adding to ground-level air pollution:

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  • Reduced driving and combining errands.
  • Avoid leaving the engine running.
  • Refuel cars after 6 p.m. when vapors are less likely to form air-pollutants like ozone.
  • Always stop at the click when refueling.
  • Avoid using gas-powered lawn and gardening equipment.
  • Check tire pressure monthly to reduce gas use.
  • Conserve electricity to reduce emissions from power plants.

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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Pima County

The view from atop the Pima County administration building downtown on Friday morning.