Going inside, it’s true, is better than the drive-thru

In a fast-paced world where time and convenience are coveted commodities, the drive-thru has become a staple of many people’s lives. Unfortunately, this convenience has made all of us contributors to the pollutant called ground-level ozone, often called “bad ozone.” This pollutant forms at ground level when nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) chemically react under the influence of heat and sunlight. The sources of the NOx and VOCs are motor vehicles, industrial operations such as paint shops, manufacturing, and energy production. As owners and operators of motor vehicles, we have the opportunity to reduce these emissions simply by being conscientious of how often our cars are running. By skipping the drive-thru and walking into businesses, we can all take the first steps – literally – to cleaner air.

  • At the bank or ATM — Park your car and walk into the bank the next time you need to deposit a check. With most banking systems entirely online and the average person using the ATM for most transactions, we rarely see the people with whom we entrust our money. Get to know your bank’s employees by conducting transactions inside and avoid the awkward hanging-out-the-window-craning-your-neck-to-see-the-screen ATM experience.
  • At the coffee shop — Is your standard coffee order a grande latte with soy milk, one pump of sugar free vanilla syrup, two pumps of sugar free caramel syrup, cinnamon sprinkled on top, with an extra shot of espresso? That’s a mouthful to order in the drive-thru line before you’ve had your morning dose of caffeine. Plus, who wants to wait in a long drive-thru line when you can just park, go inside, and be greeted by a chipper barista who’s been up since 4 a.m., sure to put you in the mood to take on the day.
  • At fast food restaurants — Similar to the coffee shop, ordering inside a fast food restaurant is often faster than waiting in a long drive-thru line. Additionally, by going inside, you have the opportunity to view the menu at your leisure without the pressure of a line of cars waiting behind you to place your order. And while it won’t burn off all the calories in that order of fries, the extra steps to and from your car will at least be a start!
  • At the dry cleaner — Dry cleaners are doing their part to keep air pollution at a minimum by adhering to practices that minimize their emissions. Join their efforts by avoiding the drive-thru. In doing so, you’ll not only enjoy a quick walk, but you can also work on strengthening your biceps by carrying your clothes to and from the car.
  • At the pharmacy — While many believe the drive-thru window of the pharmacy is convenient, it can also be intrusive. Instead of having the pharmacist explain confidential dosing information and side effects for everyone to hear via the loud speaker, go inside for your prescription. You will have more privacy and the ability to ask necessary questions without feeling like everyone is listening. Before you leave for the pharmacy, make a list of items that you need that you can purchase there, and combine your errands into one stop. Save gas and time, while reducing emissions from your car.

While it would be incredible for everyone to always forego the drive-thru for walking inside, it’s sometimes unavoidable: you’re pressed for time, you have a sleeping baby in the back seat, you brought your dog with you and can’t leave him in the car because it’s 100 degrees outside. Just do what you can. Avoiding the drive-thru when possible is still impactful in helping to reduce the pollution your car emits. Learn about other easy, impactful ways to make the commitment to improve the quality of our air at www.CleanAirMakeMore.com.

Habits from 1912 Mean Cleaner Air for 2012

On Feb. 14, 1912, President William Howard Taft signed the proclamation making Arizona a state. With only 294,353 residents, the Arizona of 1912 looked very different from what it looks like today. Population growth, advances in technology and a changing climate have all contributed to the Arizona of 2012—and with those changes came a decrease in air quality. However, did you know that you can help make the air healthier to breathe by employing some of the same tactics as our forefathers from 100 years ago? As we celebrate the Arizona Centennial, we encourage you to do some things the “old-fashioned way,” and start becoming part of the solution to our pollution challenges. 

  • Ditch the leaf blower, or use a rake and broom instead—
    While the leaf blower might be faster, using a rake and broom does the job just as effectively. Burn a few extra calories while raking, and imagine what your yard would have looked like in 1912.
  • Shop with a canvas bag instead of using paper and plastic bags—
    Arizonans were never asked the question, “paper or plastic?” when shopping for groceries in 1912. Grocery stores today have a lot more to offer than they did back then, so take advantage of the expanded selection and carry your groceries home in a more durable, reusable bag. Some grocery stores even offer discounts for bringing your own bags.
  • Plant low water deciduous trees around your home to provide cooling shade in the summer—
    If there’s one thing we enjoy more of now than we did in 1912, it’s cool air. The advent of the air conditioning unit is something Arizonans will forever treasure, but give the environment and your electric bill a break by getting creative with your landscaping.
  • Park your car and go inside instead of waiting in a long fast food restaurant or bank drive-thru lines—
    The convenience of fast food and ATMs are a couple of the luxuries we enjoy today that were not around in 1912.  Had they been around back then, drive-thru certainly wasn’t an option. Instead of idling (and emitting more pollution into the air) in a drive-thru line, park your car and walk up to the ATM or go inside the restaurant.
  • Wash clothes with cold or warm water only and dry clothes on a line instead of in a dryer—
    Whether the year is 1912 or 2012, Arizonans have always had the right to brag about more than 300 days of sunshine a year. Take advantage of that natural source of heat! Your water heater won’t have to do as much work and your clothes will have the fresh smell of the outdoors.

In 1912, Arizonans had high hopes for the future of the newest state in the Union. In 2012, we have even higher hopes for the next 100 years. Perhaps in 2112, clean air efforts will be an every day practice for all. Help us reach that goal by becoming a Clean Air Champion, beginning with the tips above. Want to do more? Make the Clean Air Commitment today!

Phoenix Area High Temps a Treat, but Air Quality Poor

John Faherty
Arizona Republic

The new year has begun with nearly perfect weather. Nearly.

A high-pressure system hovering over the Valley brought warm afternoons perfect for long walks, golf or winter gardening. High temperatures in 2012 have been running as much as 10 to 15 degrees above normal.

And the nights have been crisp and chilly, ideal for a blanket.

But there are consequences.

“When we get high pressure overhead, the air becomes more stagnant,” said Valerie Meyers of the National Weather Service.

This is called a subsidence inversion, which keeps air from rising and mixing with cleaner air.

“It holds in the particulates, and you can see the result,” Meyers said.

The result is fine-particulate pollution that exceeds the federal health standard. On New Year’s Day, Maricopa County air-monitoring data showed levels three times what is considered healthy.

The air has gotten better since, but incrementally. The Weather Service forecasts the high-pressure system will begin to fall apart over the weekend. That should bring the highs down by about 10 degrees, but it should also help clear the air.

Burning a No-Burn Day with Holiday Haze

Shaun McKinnon
Arizona Republic

Lots of folks walked outside Christmas morning and found the air filled with the aroma of a holiday fire, but that was not the plan, not according to air quality managers who asked residents to find other ways of stoking cheer.

Maricopa County’s air monitors exceeded federal pollution standards both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, even after the county posted no-burn restrictions for both days in an attempt to keep the air clean. At some locations, pollution levels were more than twice the federal health standard.

The photo at right was taken Christmas morning looking toward South Mountain in Central Phoenix and shows the layer of haze that had developed.

Although skies were relatively clear Friday, the haze built quickly and remained visible much of Monday and even into Tuesday morning.

Because the air quality declined so quickly, officials say wood-burning fireplaces were likely a primary cause of the pollution. Fireplaces produce fine dust and soot particles, known as PM2.5 because they are 2.5 micrometers or smaller in diameter.

Such small particles can find their way into the lungs, the bloodstream and even to the heart, where they can clog airways and arteries and worsen existing breathing problems. Children with asthma and adults with respiratory ailments can become ill quickly when fine dust levels rise.

Monitors posted high readings both Saturday and Sunday. The highest was at the West Phoenix monitor, near 39th Avenue and Earll Drive, where the 24-hour average concentration of PM2.5 pollution was 67.4 micrograms per cubic meter on Christmas Day.

The EPA health standard for PM2.5 is 35 micrograms per cubic meter.

The same monitor also exceeded the health standard on Saturday with 45.2 micrograms per cubic meter.

Monitors near Central Avenue and Broadway Road (51.9 on Saturday, spiking to 60.9 on Sunday) and 27th Avenue and Durango Street (49.2 on Sunday) also exceeded the standard for the weekend. An exceedance at one monitor means the entire region is out of compliance for the period.

Air quality will improve through the week, according to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, but officials worry that it could degrade again next weekend when people begin to light fires for the New Year’s holiday.

The county has exceeded health standards on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day frequently in recent years, including 2011. It’s possible the county will impose no-burn day rules again for the weekend.

Maricopa County Seeks Ways to Enforce No-Burn Rule

Michelle Ye Hee Lee
Arizona Republic

Maricopa County is seeking public input on how to implement an air-quality rule that has polarized county residents for years.

For the past four years, Valley residents have violated the county’s no-burn rule around the holidays. The county declares no-burn days when weather conditions trap pollution close to the ground. Burning leaves, trash or wood, whether in a fireplace or outdoors, is prohibited on no-burn days.

Though many residents enjoy huddling around the fireplace on Christmas and New Year’s, holidays that typically are no-burn days, the no-burn rule protects residents who have asthma, lung disease or other health concerns, and it helps regulators avoid violations of federal air-quality standards.

The county on Wednesday will hold a public meeting for the first time to solicit citizen views on how to get the word out about no-burn days and how to best implement the policy in the Valley.

“I can understand how the ambience helps create the festive mood in your house. But then you take a look at a child or an adult that is having a really hard time just taking a breath of air because the air is so polluted, to me that’s a no-brainer,” said Holly Ward, Maricopa County Air Quality Department spokeswoman.

Smoke from wood-burning emits PM-2.5 dust particulates, which are so tiny that about 30 of them would make up the width of a human hair.

Although people can sneeze out larger particles, PM-2.5 particles settle in the lungs and cause health problems, especially for the elderly, children and those with asthma or lung or heart disease.

Records show that Maricopa County has exceeded federal PM-2.5 limits every year from 2007 to 2010 on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.

No-burn days apply specifically to residential wood-burning. There are some exceptions, including in cases in which the fireplace is a person’s sole source of heat.

The public meeting will be held 2 p.m. Wednesday at 1001 N. Central Ave., Suite 500.

Call 602-506-6713 or visit https://www.maricopa.gov/1244/Air-Quality for more information.

Phoenix Area’s Bad Air Tied to Storms

Michelle Ye Hee Lee
Arizona Republic

By most accounts, it will require a “herculean effort” to gather necessary documentation to prove to the federal government that the violations were caused by natural events, not man-made ones.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency relies on documentation submitted by states to determine whether to dismiss violations of dust-pollution standards as “exceptional events” – meaning that while proper controls are in place, violations still occur because of natural events beyond a state’s control.

So far this year, dust levels at monitors across the Valley exceeded federal limits 85 times. In many cases, multiple violations happened on the same day, but at different monitor locations.

Local air-quality agencies are unanimous in their belief that 84 of those cases were exceptional events that could be blamed on natural conditions. But to prove it generally would require 60 to 70 pages of documentation for each violation, officials said. A variety of data needs to be presented, including maps, satellite images, monitoring data and radar and meteorological information.

Local officials want to document what they think is the real culprit: several huge dust storms that blanketed the Valley with so much dust this year that they made national headlines.

And because of the Valley’s dry monsoon this year, local officials argue that there was not enough rain to clear the layers of dust, leaving it lingering on the ground and in the air for days.

The combination of dust storms and the lack of rain this monsoon has created atypical dust conditions in the region, said Colleen McKaughan, associate director of the air division at EPA Region 9.

“It’s an easier task when you have the kinds of haboobs that happened this summer,” McKaughan said. “They were quite clearly exceptional events. But where the documentation becomes important is when the day is not a haboob (day), yet someone wants to call it exceptional.”

If local officials cannot gather the documentation needed to explain the high number of exceedances to federal regulators, then it could be difficult for the region to meet its goal of three consecutive years in compliance with federal dust-pollution standards. Failing to do so could jeopardize federal funding for transportation projects in the state.

The region is in its third year trying to comply with federal standards for PM-10 particulate levels. PM-10 particles are large dust particulates that are one-tenth the width of a human hair.

There were 25 PM-10 exceedances in 2009, but none in 2010. Yet the 2011 exceedances already are the most since the EPA implemented PM-10 standards in 1987, according to the Maricopa Association of Governments, a coalition of local governments that serves as a planning agency for the Greater Phoenix area.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality is responsible for submitting documentation to the EPA to prove the region’s case. By MAG’s calculations, the workload for ADEQ staff members would equate to 1,019 workdays.

The ADEQ has asked the Maricopa County Air Quality Department and MAG to help it compile technical documentation. The three agencies are responsible for planning, regulating and enforcing air quality in the Valley.

“The trouble for us is, this monsoon season has been problematic,” said Eric Massey, the ADEQ Air Quality Division director. “(We’ve had) six of the really large, I’d almost call them epic, dust events, including the ones that made national news.”

MAG and the county Air Quality Department have the data and technical expertise that could help lighten the burden on the ADEQ staff members who are responsible for compiling documentation for exceptional events across the state, Massey said. Both agencies said they are willing to lend a hand.

“We do certainly agree that it’s a significant workload, to put it mildly,” said Jo Crumbaker, policy advisor for the county Air Quality Department.

Officials from the ADEQ, MAG and county Air Quality Department say this year’s onerous situation for local agencies proves that the EPA’s exceptional-events rule is not entirely applicable for Western states that tend to have high dust levels.

The EPA’s exceptional-events rule was released in 2007. This May, the EPA released a draft guidance document in an effort to clarify the exceptional-events requirements. Currently, the EPA is soliciting local governments’ comments on the draft guidance.

Massey said the ADEQ has been contacting the EPA since 2009, asking them to amend the rule or release guidance.

“While EPA’s guidance is meant to streamline the rule, we’re not sure if it’s helped,” Massey said. “Most of the Western states’ air directors do not feel the exceptional-events rule has been appropriately applied in our states.”

MAG said the agency hopes to see some amendment or change to the exceptional-events rule, if only for the Western states. One suggestion is to determine exceptional events on the state level, in consultation with the EPA.

“The thinking is, states are familiar with their own meteorology and the exceptional events that are happening in the state,” said Lindy Bauer, MAG environmental director.

McKaughan said changes to the exceptional-events rule would have to be a national decision. She noted the rule is set up by Congress to apply to all states, and that the EPA put the draft guidance up for comments so that states could give feedback on parts of the rule with which they may have issues.

“It’s not like we can say, ‘OK, skip the requirement,’ ” McKaughan said. “We can’t. The rule has several requirements. People have to meet them. We’re trying to explain how to meet them. We know it’s not easy but I don’t think we can just decide that the rule doesn’t apply, or some aspect of the rule doesn’t apply. That doesn’t seem to be appropriate, either.”

Buy Locally Grown Foods and Breathe Easy

There’s more to buying locally-grown food items than freshness and good taste – you’re also helping the environment and the air we breathe. Those indirect benefits come in numerous ways, for example, locally grown foods:

  • Reduces the amount of fuel used to transport produce from distant or offshore producers to your supermarket.
  • Reduce dependency on fossil fuels and help put more food-buying dollars in the hands of regional farmers.
  • Give those with open space, farms and pastures an economic reason to continue farming and the preservation of open space, wetlands and agricultural corridors.
  • Do not require as much energy for storage and shipping as does produce purchased at the supermarket that may have been in transit or cold-storage for days, weeks or even months.
  • Generate dollars that change hands three or four times in a community.
  • Help the local community by providing tax dollars for schools and jobs and by providing safe and healthy food for consumers.

Whoever said you couldn’t eat your way to a better, healthier life?

Air Pollution is a Real Heart-Breaker – Could Cause Cardiac Arrest

According to Reuters, researchers in Australia say that the dirtier the air, the more likely people are to suffer sudden cardiac arrest!  Tiny specks of soot, dust and other pollutants in the air – called particulate matter – that can be breathed deep into the lungs have been “consistently” linked to increases in deaths from heart disease and clogged arteries, according to Dr. Martine Dennekamp and her colleagues at Monash University in Melbourne.

Airborne particles are harmful to people with existing health problems, according to the researchers, but they also could trigger heart attacks or even cause death in people with no apparent symptoms of cardiovascular disease.

The researchers studied 8,434 cases of sudden cardiac arrest among people 35 years and older that occurred in metropolitan Melbourne between 2003 and 2006.  They found that after a rise in concentration of the tiniest airborne particles (particles less than 2.5 microns across, known as PM 2.5), the likelihood of cardiac arrest rose and stayed higher than average for two days.   For every 4.26 micrograms per cubic meter increase in PM 2.5 concentrations, the risk of cardiac arrest was four percent higher than average for the next 48 hours.

Only we, the residents and visitors living and breathing here in Maricopa County, can make the air healthier for all of us to breathe. There are lots of things that each of us can do to stop being part of the problem — and start becoming part of the solution to our pollution problem:

  1. Drive less. When possible, walk, ride a bike, carpool, van pool or use public transportation.
  2. Avoid waiting in long drive-thru lines, for example, at coffee shops, fast-food restaurants or banks. Park your car and go inside.
  3. Re-fuel your vehicle after dark (or during cooler, evening hours).

Earth Day

Earth Day is the annual celebration of the environment and Clean Air Make More is urging everyone in Maricopa County, from residents to businesses, to take small, simple actions to help create a healthier planet for us all. Each one of us has to do our part to reduce air pollution – small changes can make a big difference.

Clean Air Make More wants to remind you that it is Summer Ozone Pollution season in the Valley of the Sun, but there are simple things you can do each day that will help reduce pollution and clean the air you breathe. Join us in showing your support on Earth Day and commit to do at least one of the following:

At Home

  • If you haven’t already, convert the light bulbs in your house to compact fluorescent lights (CFL) – it’s a great way to save the planet and money!
  • Conserve electricity! Turn off appliances and lights when you leave the room or unplug unused appliances.
  • If you plan on doing a load of laundry, wash your clothes with cold or warm water only.

In the Car

  • Drive less. Plan to carpool, ride the bus or take the METRO light rail on Thursday to show your support for the Earth.
  • Avoid waiting in long drive-thru lines at the bank, the pharmacy or when grabbing lunch. Park your car and go inside.
  • Refuel your vehicle after dark or during cooler evening hours.

For Your Health

  • Download the Clean Air Make More Desktop Widget for real time updates about the air quality in Maricopa County.
  • Encourage your friends, relatives, coworkers and neighbors to Make the Clean Air Commitment and be a Clean Air Champion and lead by example.

If everyone takes one step, together we can make a significant difference in Maricopa County’s air quality just by making simple changes to our daily lives.

How Your Pet Can Help Save the Planet

A recent study from eco-watchdogs Environmental Working Group found that cats and dogs are carrying around a cocktail of 48 different industrial chemicals in their bodies–many of them at much higher levels than what’s found in people. Some of those chemicals have been linked to thyroid problems, birth defects, and cancer, among other conditions. Have you thought about what the environment’s doing to your dog? Pet Doc provides “green” cat and dog tips that will help answer those questions:

  1. Buy recycled toys — Cat and dog toy manufacturers are starting to produce toys made from recyclable materials. Support their effort to be green.
  2. Compost dog waste – If you have a backyard, get a dog waste composter. You can put it in the ground and drop your dog’s feces in it, along with a special enzyme that helps it decompose.
  3. Use biodegradable cat litter – Buy cat litter that degrades in the environment. It’s healthy for your cat.
  4. Use natural cleaners to clean up after your pet – All-natural biodegradable cleaners are available in health stores. You also can use a mixture of vinegar and water.
  5. Use old towels to clean your dog instead of paper towels – When your dog gets dirty or wet, use an old towel that can be reused instead of using paper towels to dry it off.
  6. Use Earth-friendly shampoo – When bathing your cat or dog use products that are biodegradable. And be sure the material used to make the container is recyclable.
  7. Buy organic food and catnip – Most pet supply stores sell organic dog food and catnip. Help the “green” and use buy it.
  8. Recycle pet food cans and bags – Make a habit of rinsing empty pet food cans and recycling them. And remember to put empty food bags in the paper recycling bin.

No doubt, following the advice of these simple tips will trim your pet’s environmental footprint.