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‘State of the Air’ 2017 Report Finds Phoenix Air Quality Improved

Despite continued improvement in U.S. air quality, local residents remain at risk from health effects of unhealthy air according to new report from the American Lung Association

(April 19, 2017) -

The American Lung Association’s 2017 “State of the Air” report found that while Maricopa County failed for ozone and particle pollution, levels of pollution in the area have improved. 

While the county’s levels of annual particle pollution meet the national standard, Maricopa earned Fs for high levels of ozone and short-term particle pollution. Compared to last year’s report, Phoenix bettered its ranking on the most-polluted cities in the nation for year-round and short-term particle pollution lists, coming in at 47 and 24, respectively. In ozone pollution, Phoenix kept the same ranking as last year, No. 5, but the average number of unhealthy days improved from last year’s report. 

“The 2017 ‘State of the Air,’ report found continued improvement in air quality across the country, but 40 percent of Americans still live with unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution placing their health at risk,” said Julie Reid, executive director of the American Lung Association in Arizona. “Phoenix residents are exposed to high levels of pollution, which can put them at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks, worsened chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) symptoms and cardiovascular harm. Our high levels of year-round particle pollution also place our citizens at greater risk for lung cancer.” 

Across Arizona, Tucson improved its rankings for both year-round particle and ozone pollution, tying at 80th and 71st, respectively, for most polluted. Santa Cruz County, though, received an F in short-term particle pollution and Tucson moved up in the most-polluted rankings to 26.   

The most notable national findings of the 18th annual report were lower overall ozone levels and lower year-round particle levels, offset by a continued trend of extreme short-term spikes in particle pollution, often related to wildfires or droughts. The report finds that the health of 43 million people across the country are at risk from these dangerous spikes in particle pollution.  

Each year the “State of the Air” reports on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution (smog) and particle pollution (soot). The report analyzes particle pollution in two ways: through average annual particle pollution levels and short-term spikes in particle pollution. Both ozone and particle pollution are dangerous to public health and can be lethal. But the trends reported in this year’s report, which covers data collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies in 2013-2015, are strikingly different for these pollutants, nationwide, and in Phoenix.

Ozone Pollution in Phoenix

Compared to the 2016 report, Maricopa County experienced fewer unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report. Nationwide, ozone pollution has decreased, thanks to the Clean Air Act’s success at cleaning up major sources of the emissions that create ozone, especially coal-fired power plants and vehicles. However, research shows that climate change causes warmer temperatures, which makes ozone harder to clean up. 

“Ozone is harmful to public health and especially children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases,” Reid said. “When they breathe ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor’s office, the hospital or the emergency room.”   

Particle Pollution in Phoenix

“State of the Air” 2017 found year-round particle pollution (soot) levels in Phoenix during 2013-2015 were lower than the previous year’s report. Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution. 

Particle pollution is made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, diesel engines, wildfires and wood-burning devices. These particles are so small that they can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes. They can even cause lung cancer, and early death.

“Across the country, year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines,” Reid said. “This is something we’ve benefited from in the Phoenix region, as we’ve seen a reduction in our year-round particle counts.”

Short-term spikes in particle pollution can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. According to the 2017 report, Maricopa County had few days when short-term particle pollution reached unhealthy levels in 2013-2015. Previously, the area had a worsening trend of pollution levels since its lowest in 2007-2009, and this year’s improvement is in contrast to the national trend of increased short-term spikes in particle pollution. 

Climate is known to cause increased heat, changes in weather patterns, drought and wildfires, which   contributed to the extraordinarily high numbers of days with unhealthy particle pollution in some cities, including Phoenix. Many of these spikes in Phoenix and Tucson were directly linked to weather patterns and events, such as droughts and wildfires, which are likely to increase because of climate change. 

“Healthy air protections are under attack, and must be defended to save lives here and across the country. Air travels from one state to another, so only federal protections can help protect the air we all breathe,” Reid said. “The Lung Association in Arizona calls on President Trump, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and members of Congress to fully fund, implement and enforce the Clean Air Act for all air pollutants – including those that drive climate change and make it harder to ensure healthy air for all Americans.”

Learn more about Phoenix’s rankings, as well as air quality across Arizona and the nation in the 2017 “State of the Air” report at For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health and healthy air, contact the American Lung Association in Arizona at [email protected] or 312-801-7631. 


About the American Lung Association in Arizona 

The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease, through research, education and advocacy. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to improve the air we breathe; to reduce the burden of lung disease on individuals and their families; and to eliminate tobacco use and  tobacco-related diseases. For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide Seal, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit the newly redesigned website:

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