With colder weather comes air pollution clouding the Valley’s skies. Today marks the seventh day over the last two months that levels of dust and smoke have exceeded federal standards and forced the county to issue restrictions on wood burning.
The haze causes stunning mountain vistas to fade from view, and breathing the tainted air increases health risks.
WHAT CAUSES THE POLLUTION?
"It’s when folks on ATVs are out on dirt roads. It’s when construction workers building homes move the dust," Maricopa County Air Quality Department spokeswoman Holly Ward said. "And it’s when our ever-increasing population drives their cars to work." Cold air also can trap the pollution above the Valley.
These pollutants are called PM-10 particulates, meaning they measure 10 microns in diameter and smaller. For comparison, the human hair measures 100 microns across.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH EFFECTS?
According to the American Lung Association, PM-10 pollution can induce heart attacks and strokes, cause lung cancer and trigger asthma attacks. Especially at risk are children, the elderly, diabetics and those with lung diseases.
HOW DOES ENFORCEMENT WORK?
The Maricopa County Air Quality Department has a team of dust inspectors. If an inspector finds someone burning wood, they first issue a warning. Then a fine of $50. Then a fine of $100. This winter, the inspectors have only issued about a dozen warnings.
HOW DOES SOMEONE REPORT A VIOLATION?
Anyone witnessing unauthorized burning can call (602) 506-6010 or visit www.maricopa.gov/aq.
WHAT IF THE VALLEY DOESN’T CLEAN UP?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could apply sanctions, perhaps as early as 2008.
Bad air advisories
4 high-pollution advisories 11 health watches
DECEMBER (through today)
3 high-pollution advisories 2 health watches
NOTE: A high-pollution advisory is called when concentrations are expected to exceed the health standard. A health watch is called when concentrations are expected to approach the health standard. SOURCE: Arizona Department of Environmental Quality TRIBUNE