Air Pollution and Your Health
Did you know?
Air pollution in Pima County is clouding our future. It affects our quality of life in many ways. We can't escape it - we breathe it every day.
Air pollution affects everyone. It is especially harmful to the very young and old, and those with lung diseases. This is a serious concern in Pima County because of our larger-than-average population of older people and individuals with existing respiratory problems.
Laws are in place to protect our health from major air pollutants. Three pollutants have relatively high levels in Pima County: carbon monoxide, ozone, and particulate matter. Pima County has violated the health standards for all three of these pollutants in the past. Other pollutants of concern are nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. These pollutants help produce ground-level ozone. An index of weekday pollution levels can be found in the weather section of the local newspapers.
About 50% of the air pollution in Pima County comes from motor vehicle use. For every 31 miles you drive, one pound of pollution is emitted into the air we breathe! The more miles we drive, the more air pollution we produce. The solution is clear - we must simply drive less.
The Truth About Ozone
There are two places where ozone (O3) occurs in the air: the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere, and ozone at ground level. The ozone layer in the upper atmosphere protects us, like sunscreen, from the sun's harmful rays. The "hole" in this ozone layer, enlarged by human-made chemicals, is of great concern.
Ozone that occurs at ground level is a pollutant. It is formed by the reaction of sunlight with emissions from vehicles we drive and products we use. Unfortunately, we can't pump this lower level ozone into the upper atmosphere to fill the "hole". Ozone levels peak regularly in the early afternoon and are higher during the summer.
Irritates mucous membranes of the respiratory system causing shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, chest pain, and headaches.
Damages individual air sacs and airways in the lungs where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged, reducing lung capacity over time.
Increases sensitivity to allergens.
Particulate matter (PM) is a problem in the hot, dry climate of Tucson. PM consists of small particles, such as soot and dust, which can be visible to the naked eye or microscopic in size. It comes from motor vehicle emissions, earth-moving activities, tire and brake wear, dust from unpaved surfaces and other sources. Because of its small size, PM bypasses the body's filtering system and can be very harmful. Toxic and cancer-causing chemicals can be carried by particulate matter into the lungs.
May cause breathing difficulties and respiratory pain.
May cause irritations to the nose, throat, and ear canal which are often mistaken for allergic reactions.
May clog the lungs and lymph nodes. May diminish lung function, especially in children.
May weaken the immune system and lower resistance to infection.
May increase the incidence and severity of acute bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, emphysema and other severe lung illnesses.
May cause heart attacks, stroke and premature death.
Many thanks to the late Michael D. Lebowitz, Ph.D. for his assistance with this text.
The Clean Air Program is supported by a grant from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.