Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Lung Association Report Ranking Phoenix 10th Most Ozone Polluted City, 12th Most Particle Polluted; Timing Makes It "Misleading", Says County (MEDIA FACT CHECK)

"2011 had quite a few haboobs."  That is one reason the new American Lung Association report on air pollution is "misleading", says Bob Huhn, the spokesperson for the Maricopa County Air Quality Department.

The ALA's "State of the Air" report gives the Phoenix metro area a failing grade on both ozone pollution and (short term) particulate pollution.  And, it ranked Phoenix as the 10th  and 12th most polluted in those categories (respectively).  However, the grades are based on the 2011-13 years, and that shows spikes in both categories.

In fact, looking at the longer-term charts on the Lung Association's page shows a much cleaner picture.

The ozone chart shows from 1996 through 2013 (using a rolling 3-year number). The days that Maricopa County has exceeded the ozone limits is way down, even since 2006-08. However, the most recent periods showed an uptick.

 In announcing the "kick off" of "ozone season" in Maricopa County at the beginning of this month, the Air Quality Department noted that 2014 was a MUCH better year than the previous several, and that "during the last four years, the number of federal ozone health standard exceedances has decreased 39%, from 28 exceedances in 2011 to only 11 exceedances in 2014."  Thus, Huhn tells Arizona's Politics, next year will show "significant improvement" in Phoenix's ranking (in that category).

Similarly, he says, the particulate ranking will be much better next year.  "2011 had quite a few haboobs" (dust storms), and 2014 was much better.  Huhn also notes that the Lung Association grades things differently than does the Environmental Protection Agency.  The EPA accounts for "exceptional events" that Phoenix cannot control - such as haboobs; the Lung Association does not.

The Lung Association's charts below do bear out the timing issue, as well. Maricopa County has seen the particulate exceedances climb dramatically in the last three years, after a long term decline.

This inquiry and article were prompted by a misleading tweet and article from a local TV station that flatly declared Phoenix one of the "10 Worst Polluted Cities."  The tweet and article not only did not distinguish between ozone, particulates and overall "pollution" - the Lung Association study did not rank cities on the latter - but it neither attempted to look at the details of the ALA's study nor contact the county (or, state) for an explanation or response. To repurpose what ABC15 said (of the pollution): "Not good."

Finally, we should also point out that the ALA praised Prescott as THE "cleanest city for year-round particle pollution" AND lauded Flagstaff and Sierra Vista/Douglas as two (of 18) cities to rank on at least two of the three lists (ozone, short-term particulate, annual particulate).

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