The Effects

What Are the Effects of Air Pollution?

Maricopa County and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have designated six criteria pollutants that are monitored. However, particulate matter (PM) and ozone are the County’s most challenging pollutants to eliminate. 

Ozone Effects

Ground-level ozone is the most widespread air quality challenge in the United States. Approximately one out of every three people in the United States is susceptible to ozone-related health problems, including shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, headaches, nausea, and throat, and lung irritation. Ozone irritates the respiratory system and can inflame or damage the lining of the lungs, much like experiencing a sunburn. If this happens repeatedly over months or years, studies suggest lung tissue may become scarred, resulting in less lung elasticity/capacity, reduced or permanent loss of lung function, and a lower quality of life because of respiratory difficulties. Ozone also aggravates asthma and other respiratory diseases and reduces the immune system’s ability to fight off respiratory infections. Some people experience ozone exposure symptoms with just moderate levels of outdoor exertion or even when there are low ozone levels.

Ozone damage can occur without warning. People who live in high ozone areas may find initial symptoms go away over time, but lung damage remains even when the symptoms have disappeared. To check current ozone levels near you, visit the Air Quality Index (AQI) online. 

Particulate Matter Effects

Elevated levels of particulate matter in the air affect all Arizonans. What are the effects of air pollution from particulate matter? Both PM10 and PM2.5 are so small they can pass through your throat and nose, enter the lungs, and may even travel into the bloodstream. PM2.5 poses the greatest health risk because these tiny particles can become stuck deep in the lungs. However, everyone can suffer from temporary symptoms due to high amounts of particulate matter in the air. Children, the elderly, people exercising outdoors and those with heart or lung disease or asthma are at an especially high risk to ill effects. Consider these health facts according to the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Maricopa County Department of Public Health:

  1. Maricopa County reported 412,752 residents affected by asthma, of which 83,547 are children.
  2. 156,502 Arizona emergency room visits with asthma mentioned in 2020.
  3. The average hospital stay for Maricopa County residents with asthma is 3 days.
  4. 66 percent of Maricopa County asthma-related inpatient discharges in 2020 were between the ages of 20 and 64.
  5. 64 percent of Maricopa County asthma-related inpatient discharges in 2020 were females.

Scientists have observed higher rates of hospitalizations, ER visits, and doctor appointments for respiratory illnesses or heart disease during times of high particulate matter concentrations. 

Who is Affected?

The people most affected by ozone and particulate matter include children, senior citizens, those who work or exercise outdoors, and/or have pre-existing respiratory disease.

Children make up about 25 percent of the population but account for 40 percent of all asthma cases. Their lungs breathe faster and inhale more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults. On high pollution days, these factors put kids at risk. Recent studies indicate that children active in high ozone environments have diminished lung capacity and more easily develop asthma and other respiratory illnesses or aggravating pre-existing respiratory problems.

What is the Air Quality?

The Maricopa County Air Quality Department operates nearly 25 ambient air monitoring stations within the county. Data is taken from those sites and used with current and forecast weather conditions to determine the daily air quality forecast.

The best way to protect your health and the health of your family is to familiarize yourself with the Air Quality Index (AQI) which has the following colored indicators of air quality.

List of Recommendations for Each Range in the AQI:

Good:No restrictions on outdoor activities.
Moderate:Outdoor activity is reasonable though people should be cautious of weather conditions and pollutants in their area. Check the current air quality status here.
Unhealthy for sensitive people:Outdoor activity should be limited. People with respiratory problems or young children with developing lungs should stay indoors.
Unhealthy:Outdoor activities for all persons should be limited.
Very Unhealthy:Outdoor activities are not recommended for any population.

Page reviewed 09 August 2023