PHOENIX - When it comes to the air we breathe, Maricopa County gets a failing grade from the American Lung Association.
For the eighth year in a row, the lung association says the county earned an "F" for ozone pollution.
Phoenix also ranks 15th among the most ozone-polluted metro regions in the United States, behind Los Angeles, Houston and New York.
Ozone has been a problem for Maricopa County for sometime. Regional planners thought that several cleanup strategies like tougher vehicle-emission testing would keep the region on track to meet the federal ozone standards.
"We're right on that wobbly edge of attainment/non-attainment," said Bob Kard, director of the county's Air Quality Department. "I think (a stricter standard) is a great idea " (but) it's going to make it harder for us to comply."
Ozone can be reduced with fewer vehicles on the road and fewer of the products that emit ozone-forming pollutants.
County air-quality planners are also racing to meet an Environmental Protection Agency deadline to reduce dust pollution drastically. If the region fails, it could lose more than $1 billion in highway building funds.
An air-quality bill moving through the state Legislature now could include more measures to fight ozone pollution. One measure would require a check for leaking fuel during emission inspections.
"The history of air quality for the Phoenix area is there always has to be some kind of a threat for the Legislature to take action," said Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club. "We shouldn't have to wait until we violate the standards to do something to clean up the air."
E-P-A Administrator Stephen Johnson will announce next month whether the agency will pursue a stricter ozone standard.
Ozone inflames the lungs, causes wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain and lung infections. Children, the elderly and people with existing breathing conditions are all susceptible to its health effects.