Phoenix-Area Heat Wave Ushers in Ozone Season

Shaun McKinnon
Arizona Republic

Residents urged to take steps to curb pollution

Maricopa County’s ozone season starts today with a fresh burst of heat and sunlight, two key ingredients needed for unhealthful levels of the smog to form.

Temperatures could rise to nearly 100 degrees today as a strong high-pressure system creates the ideal conditions for ground-level ozone. The other elements – vehicle exhaust, power-plant emissions, gasoline, paint and industrial solvents – are always in abundant supply.

Ozone levels already were climbing late Thursday as the heat wave developed, and officials predicted the pollutant would reach moderate levels later today, although no ozone-related health advisories are expected.

Ozone pollution can form year-round, but it is most common from April through September, when the intense heat and sunlight are sustained and react with exhaust and other volatile compounds. During those months, ozone season, air-quality agencies increase efforts to educate people about the health risks of ozone and what they can do to lower smog levels.

“Ground-level ozone is something we can control,” said Holly Ward, spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Air Quality Department. “We can control the number of times we get into our car to drive unnecessary trips. We can choose to refuel after dark.”

Some other ways people can reduce ozone pollution are to carpool or telecommute, limit the time a car engine idles, reduce the use of gas-powered yard equipment and schedule big painting projects during cooler months.

The county has tried to reduce ozone pollution for years but has struggled to meet the federal standards. The desert’s heat produces more ozone, and weather conditions trap it in the air. But much of the problem can be traced to the region’s rapid growth, which has increased the number of vehicles on the road and added to other pollution-contributing activities.

Although state and county officials have submitted a plan to reduce pollution levels, the region is in violation of the existing standard of 75 parts per billion, as measured over an eight-hour period. The county exceeded that standard on 10 days during 2010.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing a proposal to further reduce the allowable ozone levels to between 60 and 70 ppb. At the highest level in that range, Maricopa County would exceed the standards even more frequently; at some of the lower levels in the range, many areas of rural Arizona, including Yuma, Gila, La Paz and Navajo counties, could fail to comply based on three-year averages the EPA uses to compute ozone levels.

Vehicle-exhaust and power-plant emissions contribute to ozone levels in some of those areas, but rural officials say some of the pollutants are carried to their communities by the wind, a factor the EPA acknowledges. Those smaller counties say they could not afford to monitor ozone or impose programs such as emissions testing for cars and trucks.

Elected officials and business lobbyists nationwide have urged the EPA not to adopt such strict standards, and the agency has postponed its final decision several times. A new limit is now set to be announced in July, but opponents are fighting to further delay any action.
“Each time the standard is lowered, you have to put more controls in place,” Ward said. “We are having a hard time meeting the current standard. So, should that go lower, we know we could be in trouble.”

If an area consistently exceeds limits and fails to reduce pollution levels, the EPA can impose a federal plan and withhold highway funding.

Scientists say the evidence is clear that ozone can cause health problems, making it more difficult for people to breathe. It can cause coughing and shortness of breath and can increase the frequency of asthma attacks. It also can increase health risks among people with heart and lung ailments.

New research released by the EPA last month suggested that long-term exposure to ozone could result in more premature deaths.
Ozone also can interfere with the ability of some plants and trees to produce and store food and can make some plants more vulnerable to disease, insects or harsh weather.

Give the Air and the Environment a Spring Break

Schools and universities will mark Spring Break this month, by offering important tips to their staff students before the well-deserved time away begins. Below are some popular classroom tips for consideration:


  1. Shut down non-essential energy-using equipment in the classrooms and work areas: turn-off computers, monitors, speakers, printers, and classroom lights
  2. Paying attention to items that are in standby mode like, TVs, VCRs, DVD players, microwaves and radios, as even though these items are “off,” they are using energy!
  3. College kids heading out of town for the week should take note too, first shutting down their computers and unplugging their computers, TVs and any other appliances. And if driving to a Spring Break destination, the tips below go a long way in helping the air:

Pre-travel Tips

  1. Schedule a vehicle tune-up.
  2. Make sure your tires are properly inflated.
  3. Fuel your vehicle for the long trip during cooler evening hours.
  4. Select a location that requires little driving once you arrive.
  5. Form a “travel pool” with your friends and family.

In route

  1. Avoid waiting in long drive-thru lines—park your car and go inside the coffee shop or restaurant.
  2. Turn off your car after 30 seconds of idling.
  3. Avoid driving on unpaved roads and lots.
  4. Drive slowly if you find yourself on an unpaved road.

Upon arrival

  1. Use public transportation, walk or use hotel shuttle service.
  2. If you must drive when you arrive at your destination consolidate errands, make a list of stops and stick to it.

5 Environmentally Friendly Presidents of Our Time

President’s Day is around the corner and throughout history there have been some environmental champions in the White House that should be noticed. Here’s a list of 5 eco-friendly Presidents in chronological order, and few highlights from their tenures from Environmental Graffiti Magazine:

Abraham Lincoln

In 1862 Lincoln established the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). At the time more than 90 percent of Americans were farmers, so this was an important and powerful department. The USDA still has a major impact on our environment, as does U.S. agriculture. In addition, in 1864 Lincoln signed a bill which established protection for the Yosemite Valley in California, protecting the valley’s trees.

Teddy Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt is more famous for his environmental actions than any other president in history. A committed outdoorsman, he made conservation of America’s natural resources a cornerstone of his policy. He repeatedly lobbied Congress to pass measures for the conservation of forests, water, soil and wildlife. He created the National Wildlife Refuge System. He designated Pelican Island, Florida, the first National Wildlife Refuge in 1903. He proceeded to place large areas of land under federal protection during his presidency, about 230 million acres in total.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

FDR established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC helped decrease unemployment during the Great Depression as part of FDR’s “New Deal” putting more than 2.5 million people to work from 1933 to 1942, planting millions of trees, opening summer camps, and generally improving America’s infrastructure and environment. In addition, FDR pushed a lot of legislation through Congress during his time in office, including the passage of the Soil Conservation Service and the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act.
Richard Nixon. Nixon signed one of the most important environmental legislation in U.S. history into law. Some highlights include the signing of the Clean Air Act and creation the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the 1973 passage of the Endangered Species Act passed and the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974.

Jimmy Carter

Carter signed, lobbied and created environmental laws. From the first year of his presidency he was active in environmental issues. During his tenure there was the creation of the Department of Energy, as well as the passage of the Soil and Water Conservation Act, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, and amendments on the Clean Air Act which helped set clean air standards. In 1978 Congress passed that National Energy Act, the Antarctic Conservation Act, and the Endangered American Wilderness Act.

Opinion: Ignoring No-Burn Days Imperils Public Health

Arizona Republic

The Southeast Valley had a cold start to winter, allowing residents to don heavy coats and celebrate the holidays like we hear about in Christmas songs. The cold weather also caused many residents to start up the fireplace, even when the county had issued no-burn days.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality determines when air conditions could violate federal guidelines, prompting the Maricopa County Air Quality Department to issue a no-burn day.

The county may sound like Scrooge, but the ban on using fireplaces and outdoor pits on these days is a public-health issue. Cold weather can trap pollutants close to the ground, making it difficult to breathe. The situation is worse for people with asthma and other ailments, such as heart disease.

But the message is not getting through, making outreach more important than ever.

The air quality on New Year’s Day was the worst it has been in six years because of the mix of cold, stagnant air and no-burn violations. More than 550 complaints were made in 2010. Air-quality inspectors respond but must pinpoint from where the smoke is coming before issuing a warning or citation. That is not always easy to do.

Bottom line: As cozy as it is to cuddle by a fire on a cold night, it is not worth the public-health risks. Help others breathe better by calling 602-506-6400 or checking before starting a fire.

No-Burn Violations Continue: In 2010, Officials Received at Least 559 Complaints

Michelle Ye Hee Lee
Arizona Republic

The Valley’s chilly weather may seem like the perfect time to huddle around the fireplace, but that is exactly what worries Maricopa County air-quality officials: the health risks posed by emissions from wood-burning.

The Maricopa County Air Quality Department issues no-burn days when the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality determines air contaminants will reach an unhealthful range based on federal guidelines.

The county usually issues no-burn days around Christmas and New Year’s, when weather conditions trap pollution close to the ground and when families like to light their fireplaces.

But Valley residents continue to violate no-burn days each year. There were 559 complaints of wood-burning for 2010 as of Dec. 29.
Inspectors must witness and document smoke coming out of a residence’s chimney or backyard fire before issuing warnings or violations. That creates a challenge to enforcing no-burn days.

Of the 559 complaints, air-quality inspectors issued four violations and four written warnings.

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

Smoke from wood-burning emits particles so tiny that about 30 of them would make up the width of a human hair.
Although people can sneeze out bigger particles, these settle in the lungs and cause health problems, especially for the elderly, children and people with asthma, or lung or heart disease.

“It’s hard for people with healthy lungs to breathe when it gets really heavy. But for people who are asthmatic or have respiratory conditions, it can be deadly,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter.


Volunteer air-quality inspectors patrol the Valley during evenings around the holidays.

People receive a warning on their first violation of no-burn days. For subsequent violations, they are fined increasing amounts, up to $250.

Witnessing smoke coming out of a residential chimney, fire pit or chiminea isn’t always easy. People can report violations via e-mail or phone. These complaints are dispatched to inspectors who go to the location and try to spot the chimney in action.

Inspectors log and check out every complaint, but the four or five inspectors driving around during a three-hour shift don’t get to all the complaints that night.

On New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, there were a total of 85 complaints via phone or e-mail.

Michael Burton, environmental specialist and county air-quality inspector, went to five complaint locations during his shift.
Burton cranked down his truck window when he neared the locations to detect smoke by smell. There were hints of smoke in the air at most of his stops.

There was no visible smoke coming out of the houses in question, so he noted to follow up by sending no-burn-day mailers to the neighborhoods.

“Even though the complaint was specific and you can tell there’s something going on, unless you pin it down specifically, you can’t give them a violation,” Burton said.

If there is smoke, as was the case at his fourth stop near Gilbert Road and University Drive in Mesa, Burton runs the address through the department’s database to check for prior violations to determine whether to issue a warning or a fine.


Because it’s difficult for inspectors to witness active smoke, Maricopa County Air Quality Director Bill Wiley said, the department focuses on educating the public about no-burn days by sending fliers to residences and posting them around neighborhoods, and announcing no-burn days via social media.

This year, the department added an outreach effort: posting signs in English and in Spanish along the roads of areas that commonly have wood-burning complaints.

More people are reporting complaints, but no-burn-day compliance remains a “situation of personal rights versus the rights of the general good,” Wiley said.

The goal is to make people aware that no-burn days exist and that burning wood can be harmful to others in their neighborhood, he said.

The Sierra Club’s Bahr said combining education with enforcement is important because more people will follow the rules if they know why they should, especially when some people may feel they are being asked to give up a holiday tradition.

“It’s a big price to pay for ambience, but people’s health is not worth it,” Bahr said. “For your own sake and the sake of your neighbors, it’s important to abide by those no-burn restrictions.”

Be Healthy: Honor No-Burn Days

Arizona Republic

Every winter, “No burn days” in Maricopa County are met by responses that run from surprise to amiable adherence, to anger because of the perceived infringement on personal rights.

This winter will be no different. A recent prediction by forecasters reveals an extraordinarily dry and stagnant winter season, which means residents will be asked to refrain more often from burning wood in their fireplaces, fire pits and wood-burning stoves.

Forecasters describe the upcoming winter conditions as characteristic of “La Nina,” a dry ocean-atmosphere phenomenon. Such a dynamic will equate to inversion conditions and extremely high levels of air pollution that are only made worse by wood-burning.

Our air-monitoring stations at more than 20 sites across the Valley will be vigilant in tracking unhealthy levels of pollution. The stations report when there is potential for a violation and sets in motion a series of events to prevent an “exceedance” of the federal health standard.

For example, an alert system run by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality informs residents and businesses of a high-pollution advisory (HPA) or a health watch a day in advance. Residents can sign up at to get this information via e-mail or text message.

No Burn Day restrictions are issued by the county during a high-pollution advisory or health watch and last for a 24-hour period starting at midnight the day the forecast is issued. If the restriction is ignored, fines range from $50 up to $250 depending on the number of wood-burning violations an individual receives per year. Citizens can call 602-372-2703 to report violations, and they often do. Last year we received as many as 73 wood-burning complaints in one week.

Anticipated forecast aside, once people know the health impacts of burning wood, many may choose to forego the activity entirely. Wood smoke has been compared to diesel emissions. It contains fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, sulfur dioxide and various other irritant gases that can scar the lungs.

Particles of wood smoke are extremely small and therefore are not filtered out by the nose or the upper respiratory system. Instead, these small particles end up deep in the lungs. Medical experts tell us particulate matter from wood smoke interferes with normal lung development in infants and children.

The health impacts are real. In otherwise healthy people particulate matter pollution can cause coughs, headaches, eye, and throat irritation. For vulnerable populations, such as people with asthma, chronic respiratory disease and those with cardiovascular disease, wood smoke is particularly harmful – and even short exposures can prove dangerous.

Of all of the pollution sources, wood burning is one that each of us can control. Collective action will go a long way in helping our air.

This winter consider the facts, join Clean Air Make More and take action.

If a New Car is On Your Christmas List Read About How Your Purchase Can Help the Air

Along with plush leather seats, GPS, surround-sound and a sporty look, now you have another good reason to buy a new or newer car: Helping to curtail air pollution.

Short of driving less (the best means of reducing auto air emissions), buying a clean-air car is a good thing to do to keep our air clean, especially if your current vehicle is an older model.

How do I make a wise buy of a clean-air car?

Brand new models have to meet the strictest U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards when it comes to emissions. If you are looking for a used car, look for one that is six years old or newer (these are exempt from federal smog-check requirements, too).

More things to consider

Check the Environmental Performance Label on the car you are contemplating buying. Be patient in deciphering the label as the coding can appear to be a little technical, but there are some simple numbers that give you a good indication of how the car stacks up against government standards and against other vehicles. Various websites can explain the labels, including and the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District’s site at The Environmental Protection Agency site, provides helpful charts that help you rate the greenest vehicles by year, type and state.

Ratings for SUVs (sport utility vehicles), minivans and trucks do not mean the same as ratings for cars. These vehicles are not required to meet the same emissions standards as cars in the past. However, the standards for some of these vehicle types have been changed so the newest models will be cleaner that in the past.

Look at the fuel efficiency ratings as well as the air pollution rating. The two don’t always match, but fuel-efficient cars are often also less polluting. Obviously, the better the fuel economy of the vehicle, the less production of carbon dioxide it will emit.
Short of driving less, buying a new — or newer — car can help you curb air pollution from exhaust. On how best to proceed with your quest to buy an air-friendly car, you can do a search at several helpful web sites, including: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency site,