Almost 30 dust-related high-pollution advisories in 2006 have Maricopa County officials anticipating that the county will fail air quality standards — again.
County officials expect that in December the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will declare the county in nonattainment of air quality standards.
“It means we need to tighten the ropes,” said Holly Ward, a Maricopa County Air Quality Department spokeswoman. “Now we have to take steps to improve it.”
The county is allowed three dust pollution days a year, but has already had 29. After failing standards in 2005 because of dry weather, the EPA gave the county until this December to comply, Ward said.
The county has not reached air quality standards since failing in 1979, based on three-year air quality averages the EPA tracks. The county had improved in 2004, before bad conditions returned in 2005, Ward said.
High pollution the last two years will require the county to implement stringent new policies and an educational program that seeks to lower the pollution by 5 percent a year, Ward said.
Anticipating the failure, the county plans to release specifics of those measures in September, she said.
The problem is because of overwhelming dust pollution from sources such as construction work and vehicles driving on dirt roads. The dust was especially bad this winter because stagnant air held it in place, while in past years more wind would help alleviate the problem, Ward said.
The small particles can go deep into the lungs and affect those with breathing problems quickly, Ward said.
“It has been really terrible,” said Sue Dawson of Queen Creek. “My allergies have been horrible.”
While ozone is a greater concern during the summer, the Department of Environmental Quality lists dust as a possible problem for the rest of this week.
East Valley construction zones and monsoon storms have made dust more visible recently.
The typical high-dust season will return in October, Ward said, which means residents should try to avoid any activities that blow dust into the air.
“People understand the air is bad,” Ward said. “They don’t understand what causes it or how their daily activities affect it.”
Although the county doesn’t anticipate failing ozone pollution standards, there have been about 11 high ozone pollution days during the summer months when it is a bigger problem — about the same as 2005.
Measures to help control ozone pollution include carpooling or combining trips, using electric instead of gas yard equipment, and avoiding gasoline spills when refueling. In addition, because sunlight aids ozone creation, getting gasoline when the sun goes down is advised, Ward said.
For information on air quality forecasts, visit http://airnow.gov.