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Phoenix ranked one of the worst cities for air quality

Air quality in the Phoenix area continues to pose health concerns for residents. 

Phoenix was ranked 7th in the nation for cities with the worst air quality, according to the American Lung Association. 

The American Lung Association also showed Maricopa county was one of the most prominent counties in Arizona with the poorest air quality. This data measured residents’ exposure to ozone, particle pollution and short-term spikes throughout a three-year time period. 

“We’re one of the sunniest cities in the United States as well, and ozone needs sunlight,” said Matthew Pace, a meteorologist at the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. “Since we have an abundance of sunshine here in the valley, it allows ozone to build up a lot quicker.” 

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, exposure to poor air quality can put stress on the body in performing normal breathing habits, which has been associated with causing chronic diseases and cancer.

“Air quality affects me everyday, especially when I’m outside for long periods of time. I know it can lead to health problems, and I definitely don’t want that… Especially when I’m driving in traffic. The air just feels much thicker and I feel like I can’t breathe right.” said Nataysia Koehler, a current Tempe resident.

Pace said air pollutants can also have other effects for residents, including coughing, tightening of the chest and shortness of breath. People with asthma, bronchitis and other health related problems are most vulnerable. 

“Air quality has definitely impacted my health. I’m chronically ill and take immunosuppressants, and during my first semester at ASU, I was constantly getting sick and coughing. I have a harder time breathing, and now I actually carry an inhaler with me,” said Tempe resident, Anna Davis.

Davis had previously lived in numerous locations, one of which including Stuttgart, Germany, where she said air quality was not a problem.

“I’ve lived in a lot of places and everywhere had different air quality. I think Stuttgart has much better air quality than Tempe… Same with Carlisle in Pennsylvania. The air quality was much better,” said Davis.

According to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, the air quality measurement saw an overall slight improvement in the past decade. This was credited with shifts to cleaner energy, one of which is the gaining popularity of electric vehicles. 

Still, improving air quality continues to combat significant challenges when it comes to cars.

The Maricopa Association of Governments largely credits poor air quality as a result of car emissions, which releases mass amounts of ozone into the Phoenix air. 

“I’m not surprised at all about the air quality in Phoenix. I think a big part is the commuting distance. It seems almost normal to drive an hour to work or school,” said Koehler.

Currently, as a way to reduce emissions, the City of Tempe and other Phoenix areas are promoting its transit, light rail, bikeways, and pedestrian development. 

“When you're looking at driving your car, look at combining your trips into one. Take public transportation… even when you're at a fast food location, instead of going through the drive through line and you’re idling, just park your car and go inside,” Pace said.

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