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Air pollution hits harmful levels in Tucson, with heat & wildfires contributing to haze

Air pollution in the Tucson metro area is at harmful levels and residents should limit outdoor activities, Pima County Department of Environmental Quality officials said.

Ozone, an unhealthy air pollutant when close to the ground, has increased across the area. People sensitive to air pollution such as children, people with a respiratory disease or those who are active outdoors may experience shortness of breath, coughing, throat irritation, wheezing and breathing discomfort, especially if they exercise outside, officials said.

Wildfires burning across central Arizona have sent plumes of smoke southward, increasing the haze in the Tucson valley.

Intense physical outdoor activity can cause faster, deeper breathing that can damage sensitive parts of the lungs with air pollutants. PDEQ suggested limiting the level of physical exertion outdoors between noon and 6 p.m., when they expect air pollution levels to be especially high. They also expect these ozone levels to increase to this level again on Tuesday if the weather conditions are the same as today.

Common sources of ozone include car exhaust, industrial and power plant emissions and volatile organic compounds that react with heat and sunlight, PDEQ said. The Environment Protection Agency explains that VOCs, or hydrocarbons, are gases released from solids or liquids like paints or fuels that are harmful to breathe.

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

  • 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.

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Pima County

A hot, hazy day in August 2020.