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The Effects

What Are the Effects of Air Pollution?

Maricopa County and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have designated six criteria pollutants that are monitored for, but particulate matter (PM) and ozone are the Valley’s toughest to battle.

  1. Ozone
  2. Particulate Matter (PM)

Ozone Effects

Ground-level ozone is the most widespread air quality problem in the United States. What are the effects of air pollution from ozone? Approximately one out of every three people in the United States is susceptible to ozone-related health problems, including shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, headaches, nausea, and throat and lung irritation. Ozone irritates the respiratory system and can inflame or damage the lining of the lungs, much like experiencing a sunburn. If this happens repeatedly over months or years, studies suggest lung tissue may become scarred, resulting in less lung elasticity/capacity, reduced or permanent loss of lung function and a lower quality of life because of respiratory difficulties. Ozone also aggravates asthma and other respiratory diseases and reduces the immune system’s ability to fight off respiratory infections. Some people experience ozone exposure symptoms with just moderate levels of outdoor exertion or even when there are low ozone levels.

Ozone damage can occur without warning. People who live in high ozone areas may find initial symptoms go away over time, but lung damage remains even when the symptoms have disappeared. To check current ozone levels, visit the Air Quality Index (AQI) online:

  1. Green (good)
  2. Yellow (moderate)
  3. Orange (unhealthy for sensitive people)
  4. Red (unhealthy)
  5. Violet (very unhealthy)

Follow this ozone forecast and take steps to limit exposure even when you don’t feel obvious symptoms.

Who is Affected?

People most affected by ozone include children, senior citizens, people who work or exercise outdoors, people with pre-existing respiratory disease and people who react aversely to ozone.

Children make up about 25 percent of the population but account for 40 percent of all asthma cases. Their lungs breathe faster and inhale more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults. On high-pollution days, these factors put kids at risk. Recent studies indicate that children active in high ozone environments have diminished lung capacity and more easily develop asthma and other respiratory illnesses or aggravating pre-existing respiratory problems.

Particulate Matter Effects

Elevated levels of particulate matter in the air affect all Arizonans. What are the effects of air pollution from particulate matter? Both PM-10 and PM-2.5 are so small they can pass through your throat and nose, enter the lungs, and may even get into the bloodstream. PM-2.5 is believed to pose the greatest health risk because these tiny particles can get stuck deep in the lungs. A February 2007 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found particulate air pollution – particularly PM-2.5 – is strongly linked to increased heart and cardiovascular disease, especially among women. What is noteworthy is everyone can suffer from temporary symptoms due to high amounts of particulate matter in the air. Children, the elderly, people exercising outdoors and those with heart or lung disease or asthma are at an especially high risk to ill effects. Consider these health facts according to the Arizona Department of Health Services:

  1. 600,000: Number of Arizonans affected by asthma.
  2. 105,093: Number of 2010 Arizona emergency room visits with asthma mentioned.
  3. 3.1 days: Average length of hospital stays for Arizona residents with asthma in 2010.
  4. 57 percent of Arizona asthma-related inpatient discharges in 2010 were between the ages of 20 and 64.
  5. 67 percent of Arizona asthma-related inpatient discharges in 2010 were females.

Scientists have observed higher rates of hospitalizations, ER visits and doctor appointments for respiratory illnesses or heart disease during times of high particulate matter concentrations. Scientists also have observed the worsening of both asthma symptoms and acute and chronic bronchitis during these times. Further, relationships have been discovered between high particulate matter levels and reductions in the health of various aspects of the lungs.

Who is Affected?

The elderly and those with heart and/or lung diseases are particularly at risk to the harmful effects from particulate matter exposure. Particulate matter data analysis from Air Resource Board’s Children’s Health Study shows health effects in children, as well. This study concluded that in communities with high particulate matter levels, children’s lungs developed more slowly and did not move air as efficiently as children’s lungs in clean air communities. Children and infants inhale more air per pound of body weight than adults. This is because they breathe faster, spend more time outdoors and have smaller body sizes so they are more susceptible to harm from inhaling particulate matter pollutants. Additionally, children’s immature immune systems may cause them to be more susceptible to particulate matter than healthy adults.

How Do We Know What the Air Quality Is?

The Maricopa County Air Quality Department operates nearly 25 ambient air monitoring stations within the county.  Data is taken from those sites and used with current and forecast weather conditions to determine the daily air quality forecast.

The best way to protect your health and the health of your family is to familiarize yourself with the Air Quality Index (AQI) which has the following colored indicators of air quality:

  1. Green (good)
  2. Yellow (moderate)
  3. Orange (unhealthy for sensitive people)
  4. Red (unhealthy)
  5. Violet (very unhealthy)
Here is a List of Recommendations for Each Range in the AQI
  1. Good: No restrictions on outdoor activities.
  2. Moderate: Outdoor activity is reasonable though people should be cautious of weather conditions and pollutants in their area. Check the current air quality status here.
  3. Unhealthy for sensitive people: Outdoor activity should be limited. People with respiratory problems or young children with developing lungs should stay indoors.
  4. Unhealthy: Outdoor activities for all persons should be limited.
  5. Very unhealthy: Outdoor activities are not recommended for any population.