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Air pollution in Tucson reaches harmful levels, made worse by smoke from Contreras Fire
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Air pollution in Tucson reaches harmful levels, made worse by smoke from Contreras Fire

  • A hazy Downtown Tucson on Thursday, June 16, 2022.
    Pima County A hazy Downtown Tucson on Thursday, June 16, 2022.
  • An EPA diagram to explaining how small particle pollutants can be and how easy they are to breathe
    EPAAn EPA diagram to explaining how small particle pollutants can be and how easy they are to breathe

Air pollution in the Tucson metro area hit harmful levels on Thursday, prompting an advisory from Pima County that residents should avoid intense physical outdoor activity. The air around the city is also expected to be worse due to the Contreras Fire burning southwest of Tucson, the county warned.

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

Forecasts for Tucson say that concentrations of ground-level ozone in the air will be strongest between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. but should drop down to normal levels for the weekend.

En español: Contaminación del aire en Tucson alcanza niveles daniños, empeorada por el Incendio Contreras

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

PDEQ 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.

The Contreras Fire — which has burned more than 11,500 acres on the Tohono O'odham Nation, between Baboquivari Peak and Kitt Peak — is sending smoke toward Tucson, which means the air will have high levels of microscopic solids and liquids that can damage lungs.

"Particle pollution represents a main component of wildfire smoke and the principal public health threat," according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

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.

The first air advisory warning issued by PDEQ last year was on June 14. The air advisory warning on Thursday is the fifth such air pollution warning by the county for 2022.

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:

  • 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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