Arizona is a state located in the Southwestern region of the United States, being considered as part of the ‘Mountain States’, which include the areas that see the Rocky Mountain range running through them. Arizona is bordered by other states such as Nevada, California, Utah and Colorado, and has a population size of approximately 7.27 million people, making it the 14th most populous state throughout the USA, a feature which can also add to the issue of air pollution, as with large amounts of people and their subsequent movement, often comes higher levels of pollution.
Arizona has a wide range of different climates, ranging from being largely a desert region in its southern portion, whilst the north has many pine and spruce forests, as well as seeing a sizeable amount of snowfall in the winter months, showing the disparity between the different ends of the state. It has a majority of its economy focused around sectors such as the transportation industry, healthcare, higher education facilities as well as manufacturing and construction, showing a strong element of diversity in its economy. This can also have the unfortunate effect of causing poorer air quality to occur, as with the mass manufacturing of products, coupled with other industries such as mining or exporting goods, there is often an increase in the level of pollution, for a multitude of reasons which will be discussed in short.
In 2020, Arizona came in with a wide variety of different PM2.5 readings across its various cities. PM2.5 refers to particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, on occasion going down to sizes far smaller and being comprised of various different materials. Due to these properties, PM2.5 is of great risk to human health when respired, and as such, it is a major component used in the calculation of the overall AQI, or air quality index, along with several other significant pollutants.
The city of Stanfield came in with a PM2.5 reading of 14.4 μg/m³ as its yearly average over the course of 2020, putting it into the ‘moderate’ air pollution bracket, which requires a PM2.5 reading of anywhere between 12.1 to 35.4 μg/m³ to be classified as such. This relatively high reading placed it in 1st place out of all cities ranked in Arizona, as well as 1453rd place out of all cities ranked worldwide, a very high ranking for a U.S city, indicating that there is a fair amount of pollution-related problems occurring within Stanfield.
In total, two cities in Arizona ranked in with a moderate rating, whilst a further two came in with a ‘good’ air quality ranking (which requires a PM2.5 reading of anywhere between 10 to 12 μg/m³ for classification). The remaining fourteen cities came in within the World Health Organizations (WHO's) target bracket of 10 μg/m³ or less, indicating that a majority of Arizona’s cities had a good yearly average, albeit with some months that saw significant spikes in the PM2.5 levels. As such, Arizona has some cities with major pollution issues, whilst others still have problems of their own but manage to maintain a good yearly average of air quality. These periods of high pollution carry with them many ill health effects, some of which will also be discussed in following.
Arizona has some of its cities and months come in with less than perfect readings of pollution for a number of different reasons, some of them depending on meteorological factors such as either intense heat, or on the opposite side of the spectrum more extremes of cold. Coupled with the subsequent anthropogenic activity, or rather people’s reactions to the changes in weather and seasons, there can be many different sources of air pollution appearing.
In terms of air pollution sources that are more ambient in nature, and thus affect the year round readings, they include ones such as vehicular fumes and emissions. With its extremely large population of over 7 million people, there would at any time be hundreds of thousands of personal vehicles such as motorbikes or cars on the road, travelling in and out of the various cities as well as being part of rush hour traffic jams on people’s daily commutes. These vehicles can put out large amounts of dangerous chemical compounds and hazardous particulate matter, and to impact the situation further, the roads are often shared with larger or more ‘heavy duty’ vehicles such as trucks, lorries and buses.
These heavy duty vehicles are an important factor in the importation and exportation of goods across state, as well as for both domestic and international export. These vehicles often run on fossil fuels such as diesel, and thus can put out far larger amounts of pollution than a singular vehicle of small size would. Finally, many tons of finely ground rubber particles can enter the atmosphere, polluting the air, soil and water as it is released in high volumes from the eventual wear and tear of tire treads.
Other prominent sources of air pollution worth mentioning are emission from factories and power plants, as well as any other related industrial areas. The use of natural gas and pulverized coal in these places can lead to further releases of pollution, hence why the demand for power often goes up during the colder months as the need for heating also rises. Construction sites, livestock, crop fertilizers, road repairs or road dust accumulations and even demolition sites are further, lesser well known causes of air pollution, with poorly maintained construction or repair areas leaking huge amounts of PM2.5 or PM10 into the air, along with many other dangerous materials.
Whilst there are many cities that hold long periods of time in which the air quality is extremely clean and therefore safe to breathe, as mentioned there are certain cities and months that bring with them big spikes in pollution levels. It is during these times that the risk of health problems developing goes up, along with the severity of any related issues, depending on the length of exposure as well as what pollutants an affected individual has been exposed to.
These include conditions such as dry coughs, chest infections and pain, as well as inflammation or irritation to the respiratory tract or lung tissues, which can cause scarring or rapid aging of the lungs, as well as reducing their full function. This can also have a further knock-on effect of making affected people more prone to other respiratory problems, which include ones such as pneumonia, bronchitis, emphysema and aggravated forms of asthma. Rates of lung cancer can go up as well, due to the many carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic effects that the different forms of pollution can have, affecting not only the lungs but having the potential to cause cancer in many parts of the body.
Due to the immensely small size of PM2.5, it can cross over into the bloodstream via the alveoli in the lungs, and once in the bloodstream can wreak havoc on many of the bodies internal systems. These include damage to the blood vessels, as well as issues arising within the renal and hepatic systems (kidneys and liver) due to their role as filtration units within the body. Reproductive health can also be damaged, lowering fertility rates or causing possible instances of infertility.
In closing, even contact with skin or exposed mucous membranes can cause a number of issues, with irritation to the eyes, ears, nose and mouth all occurring, as well as aggravated breakouts of rashes on the skin being possible. Certain skin conditions can arise such as cases of acne, eczema, psoriasis and atopic dermatitis, showing just how far-reaching the effects of excess pollution exposure can be and how it is of the utmost importance to reduce it, particularly amongst sensitive or vulnerable individuals.
With many of the sources of pollution already having been covered, they typically release a large amount of several main pollutants, some of which go into calculating the air quality index, alongside PM2.5 and PM10. These would be ones such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) as well as sulfur dioxide (SO2), both of which see a large amount of release from the various vehicles present throughout the state.
Other pollutants include ozone (O3), which is formed more commonly during the summer months due to chemicals such as oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and other gases being exposed to solar radiation, thus converting into ozone or smog at is more commonly known. Other pollutants include black carbon, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, as well as volatile organic compounds (VOC's), which include chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde and methylene chloride. Finely ground particles of gravel or silica dust can be present from construction sites or mining areas, along with the potential release of heavy metals such as lead, mercury or cadmium.
With protecting oneself from air pollution becoming more of an important topic in modern times, it is of great concern for certain groups to know whether they belong in the at-risk demographics, and thus they can take preventative measures accordingly. These groups include people such as pregnant mothers, those who are sick or have compromised immune systems, those with overall poor health due to preexisting conditions, smoking, sedentary lifestyles or combinations of all these factors, as well as young children and the elderly.
These groups should take extra care to keep their pollution exposure to an absolute minimum, due to the larger and more severe range of health issues that they can incur. Air quality maps that can be found on the IQAir website, or on the AirVisual app, can aid individuals in making informed decisions regarding preventative measures, which include the wearing of fine particle filtering masks on days of high pollution, as well as avoiding outdoor activities if possible, during these bouts of higher pollution.