Many of us probably don’t sit around and think about air quality – although we probably would if going outside made us hack up our lungs.

Bad air day in Clovis,        N.M./Ryn Gargulinski

Bad air day/Ryn Gargulinski

This week marks the exciting we-love-the-Earth holiday of Air Quality Awareness Week, which runs through May 7.

The Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges this celebration across the nation, while our own county Board of Supervisors is proclaiming it right here in Pima County.

And Tucson deserves to celebrate.

Tucson got high rankings in the American Lung Association’s 2010 State of the Air report, while Phoenix choked near the bottom.

Old Pueblo hit the list as one of the 12 cities with the cleanest air, based on measures of both short-term and year-round particle pollution.

This means we can breathe deep and do yoga in our very own backyards – provided our privacy fence is high enough to prevent that old, fish-lipped man down the block from peering in.

But don’t get too serene just yet. Although Tucson ranked tops for low particle pollution, most likely due to our lack of volcanoes, we hit a sour mark for ozone.

Bad air day repair man in Clovis, N.M./Ryn Gargulinski

Bad air day repair man/Ryn Gargulinski

In fact, if the federal government implements its proposed changes to the national ambient air quality health standards for ground-level ozone, Pima County may actually fail that category, our air quality awareness week proclamation says.

We have too many drivers, for sure – and that’s not just my opinion when I’m stuck at a five cycles of a red light at Grant Road and Alvernon Way.

“Since the majority of our air pollution in Pima County is caused by motor vehicle use,” said a news release from the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality (PDEQ), “reducing driving, maintaining vehicles, checking and properly inflating tires, and avoiding idling are all actions that can be taken to keep our air healthy to breathe.”

Bettering the roads would also help. Think about it. If it only took 10 minutes to drive 10 miles, like in most normal cities, rather than the 60 minutes it often takes in Tucson, all motorists would automatically cut their time on the road by nearly 84 percent.

Nineteen area stations monitor Pima County air quality, with up to the minute results at

At least we didn’t rank at the overall top of the pollution heap, a spot perpetually reserved for California’s Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside areas. Didn’t L.A. invent the word SMOG?

Pollution party/Ryn Gargulinski

Pollution party/Ryn Gargulinski

And at least we beat out clogged-up Phoenix, which was a new addition to the report’s list of cities most polluted by year-round particles.

Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Director Benjamin H. Grumbles grumbled the report was inaccurate.

“I disagree with the methodology used to grade the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale metropolitan area at the top of the list of cities most polluted by year-round particle levels,” he said in a news release.

“This finding came about because of one lonely air quality monitor near the Cowtown area of western Pinal County, nearly 40 miles and across the mountains from downtown Phoenix. It also was based on data from 2006-08 and the pollutant levels have shown improvement since then as we have continued to work with agricultural interests and other interests in that area to reduce dust.”

There you have it. Grumbles would say it’s OK to do yoga outside in Phoenix, too.

In honor of Air Quality Awareness Week, the PDEQ is encouraging “community action to reduce air pollution levels during this week and throughout the year to improve the health of all who breathe our air.”

I’ll breathe deep to that.

We can celebrate this exciting week in several ways:

*Attend the rousing reading of the Pima County Air Quality Awareness Week proclamation at the May 4 Pima County Board of Supervisor’s meeting.
*Quit starting brush fires.
*Get that asbestos out of our garage already.
*Quit driving.
*Quit burning plastic, Styrofoam and old tires.
*Chuck the aerosol hairspray.
*Clean out your shower stall and air ducts.
*Quit exhaling.

Save our air.



What do you think?

Are you a fan of Air Quality Awareness Week and all other such events?

How do you contribute to clean air?

How do you contribute to pollution?

Are such “awareness weeks” worthwhile?

Are government mandated air quality standards a helpful thing or just one more form of government control?