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Harmful levels of ozone in Tucson trigger week's 3rd air advisory

Air pollution in the Tucson metro area reached harmful levels on Wednesday, prompting advisories from the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality that residents should avoid intense physical outdoor activity. The PDEQ issued the same warning on Monday and Tuesday as well, and this is the third consecutive week with such a warning in a summer marked by wildfires and intense heat making for hazy skies across the West.

This is the first week this summer to see three such advisories.

State forecasts for Tucson show that high levels of ground-level ozone, the air pollutant triggering the advisory, are likely to return Thursday as well, and PDEQ officials said they may do so if the weather conditions are similar.

“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 general.

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 parts of the lungs more likely to be injured.

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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