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Phoenix area among worst in nation for air pollution, study finds

(Photo by Katrin Mehler/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – The Phoenix area was among the top five-largest metro areas with the most days of smog in 2016, according to a national study released Wednesday by an Arizona research group.

The Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale area had 110 days of “degraded” air quality in 2016, with only the Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Atlanta metro areas having more bad air days, according to the report by the Environment Arizona Research & Policy Center.

The Phoenix nonprofit used data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct the analysis, focusing on days with elevated ozone and particulate levels.

Experts said that’s a serious health concern for the 4.6 million people who live in the area because breathing contaminated air increases the risk of asthma attacks, heart disease and even premature death.

In comparison, the data showed the Lake Havasu City area had only one such day in 2016, while the Yuma area had the second-highest number of such days at 91. Payson, Nogales, Tucson and the Sierra Vista also recorded higher numbers of pollution days.

Christy Leavitt, senior director at the center, said breathing in ozone at ground level can produce inflammation similar to a sunburn in the lungs, which can lead to permanent damage to lung tissue or cause issues to the respiratory system.

The report said increases in temperature, wildfires and changing weather patterns exacerbate the air-pollution problems. But it also recommended changes to reduce the threat, including transitioning to clean energy, increasing ozone and particulate matter regulations and tightening fuel economy standards.

“We need to strengthen the vicinity air-quality protections and reduce global warming pollution,” Leavitt said. “We need to be doing those things at the federal level as well as the state level.”

The report suggested state officials could do things such as set and enforce stronger permits for polluters and set goals for electric-vehicle sales. Leavitt said states and local entities should expand clean and renewable energy, such as solar or wind power.

Researchers are concerned that rather than moving forward with protecting and strengthening these policies, Leavitt said, the Trump administration will instead weaken certain smog and pollution standards.

“We need to keep the standards in place,” she said.

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