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Hazy Tucson skies caused by Calif. wildfires; County cautions about air quality

Wildfires burning hundreds of miles away are sending a blanket of smoke across the country — including in Tucson, where haze is making it hard to see across the valley Monday.

The increase in particulates and potential for higher-than-normal ground-level ozone prompted Pima County to issue a "air quality health watch" on Monday.

Air quality monitoring equipment captured levels of ozone exceeding the federal health standard on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, a Pima County Department of Environmental Quality said.

"Hazy skies may continue throughout the week, potentially causing spikes in air pollution levels," said PDEQ's Karen Wilhelmsen.

"Wildfire smoke transported from California wildfires, as well as fires in our area, are likely a significant contributor to recent and current levels of ozone and particulates. In addition to motor vehicle exhaust, industrial and power plant emissions, gasoline vapors, chemical solvents and natural sources, wildfire smoke provides additional precursors that combine in the presence of sunlight to create ozone," she said.

Smoke from the fires has been reported as far away as Kansas. In Tucson, the continued heat wave has exacerbated the effects of the smoke particles in the air.

From Pima County:

People who are sensitive to air pollution may experience shortness of breath, coughing, throat irritation, wheezing, and breathing discomfort. If sensitive to air pollution, individuals may want to limit outside exertion in the afternoon when elevated levels of ozone pollution are more likely to occur. Intense outdoor physical activity causes faster and deeper breathing, which allows ozone and particulates to penetrate into parts of the lungs that are more susceptible to injury.

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Children, adults who are active outdoors, and people with respiratory diseases tend to be more sensitive to these pollutants. Individuals who are feeling symptoms should seek medical attention, if necessary.

Although wildfire smoke is a significant contributing factor in current ozone conditions, we can all help by taking controllable actions that reduce emissions, such as:

  • Reduce driving - combine errands into one trip, ride the bus, bike, walk or share rides
  • Avoid idling your vehicle’s engine. Refrain from long drive-thru lines - park and go inside instead
  • Re-fuel your car after 6 p.m. when fumes are less likely to form ozone
  • While re-fueling, always stop at the click to avoid spills and overfilling gas tank
  • Make sure your gas cap is tightly sealed after re-fueling
  • Check your tire pressure monthly to reduce gasoline use and associated air pollution
  • Use low VOC or water-based paints, stains, finishes and paint strippers
  • Avoid using gas-powered lawn and gardening equipment
  • Conserve electricity to reduce emissions from power plants
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Pima County webcam

The hazy view from atop a Pima County building Downtown, looking toward the Santa Catalina Mountains on Monday.