Arizona sees first ‘Ozone High Pollution Advisory’ with more to come

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality issued an “Ozone High Pollution Advisory” for Maricopa County today, the first of what could be many to come this year.

“It means the ozone level is getting close to, or may exceed, the federal health standard,” Communications Supervisor of the Maricopa County Air Quality Department Bob Huhn said.

This is the first year ADEQ is forecasting ozone based on the new Environmental Protection Agency standard of 70 parts per billion, instead of the previous standard of 75 parts per billion.

“To be honest with you, we are having a tough time meeting those standards,” Huhn said.

Wednesday was just the beginning, as air pollution is a bigger concern in the summer when temperatures are hotter. That’s because ozone is created when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs, react with sunlight.

“We shouldn’t just throw our hands up and say we can’t do this. That’s not a good option. The bottom line is this is about our health,” Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter Director Sandy Bahr said.

Arizona is currently at a moderate rating for ozone.

“We have to show the Environmental Protection Agency that we’re working on it. That means everything from stricter rules, maybe higher fines, increasing our education and outreach program,” Huhn said.

The state is working on an implementation plan and isn’t facing EPA penalties yet but could if the problem worsens.