2011 record year for Maricopa County air pollution

February 24, 2012

A year-end report on Maricopa County’s air quality shows last year was one of the worst on record. As KJZZ’s Paul Atkinson reports from Phoenix, dust storms and pollution from California played a major role.

Farm dust Farm equipment stirs up dust on a field in Gilbert. (Photo by Paul Atkinson - KJZZ)

Air quality monitors in Maricopa County found the amount of dust exceeded federal levels on 19 days last year. All but one are blamed on dust storms.  They were also responsible for 5 of the 9 days the county exceeded federal levels for small particulate matter.  Home fireplaces were responsible for the rest.  And car exhaust mixed with air pollution blown in from California led to 23 days in which ozone topped federal levels last year. 

 “A lot of our pollution levels depend really on two things, the weather and human activity,“ said Holly Ward of the Maricopa County Air Quality department.  She said warnings are sent out in advance of expected high pollution days.

“And then you really hope that with our health watch or high pollution advisories we really depend on folks to take action and do their part so that they reduce the pollution contribution,” Ward said.

Maricopa County has measures in place to prevent air pollution, but most address industrial sources. The Sierra Club’s Sandy Bahr said those measures do the bare minimum.  She said more needs to be done to prevent dust, fine particulate matter, and ozone.

 “Obviously the standards are all of those pollutants are health based standards,” said Bahr. "So that’s a big chuck of time where we’re breathing unhealthy air.”

Bahr said an aggressive public education campaign is needed to make people more aware of how their actions help pollute the air. 

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