Now more than ever, Arizona needs leadership on clean air

May 5, 2020 2:31 pm

Public domain photo

The American Lung Association recently released its annual “State of the Air” report, and Phoenix has earned an “F” rating once again. In fact, Phoenix jumped from 32nd place to 7th place in the list of U.S. cities with the highest levels of particulate pollution and is one of eight cities that reached the worst level of particulate pollution ever recorded.  

Particulate pollution is any sort of particulate matter that can be suspended in the air, and ozone and negatively contributes to the air quality. It can come from activities ranging from burning fossil fuels to charcoal grilling. Particulate pollution has been linked to negative health effects, and even short-term exposure to this pollutant can lead to cardiovascular issues, strokes, and asthma. 

While this scientific report may not be surprising to Arizonans that are already familiar with poor air quality in the metro Phoenix area, these findings should not be discounted – especially right now. 

Poor air quality and pollutants have been found to exacerbate the effects of COVID-19. A recent study found that counties in the U.S. that have higher levels of air pollutants also have higher death rates from COVID-19 than counties with lower levels of those same pollutants. 

Arizonans are being exposed to these pollutants every day, at a rate that is one of the highest ever recorded in the nation. This report comes as a reminder that our health is closely tied to the environmental factors that surround us, and the best way to preserve and protect our communities is to have environmental and public health safeguards in place.

One of these safeguards – arguably the most important one – is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s mandate to hold polluting industries accountable. Recently, however, most EPA protections have been under attack by the Trump administration. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler just finalized a rollback of the clean car standards, which are important pollution and consumer protections that are working to fight climate change. 

Furthermore, the Trump EPA just finalized a “Poison Plan” to undermine the Mercury Air Toxic Standards (MATS), which have been responsible for lifesaving reductions in dangerous mercury, soot, and other toxic air pollutants. In fact, the EPA’s own data shows that the increased heart attacks, asthma attacks, and ER visits resulting from this move will only cost our already strained health system more money in the long term and result in countless preventable deaths. 

The truth is that poor air quality – like what Arizonans are facing on a daily basis – makes communities more vulnerable to the current pandemic. By putting corporate polluters over the lives of Americans, this administration continues to show us where its priorities lie. 

With the Trump administration failing to place proper importance on the health of citizens in the face of a global pandemic, it is up to our legislators to take bold steps to address both the current public health crisis and the climate crisis. Sens. Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema should step up and do all in their power to defend the health and well-being of their constituents. Arizonans can’t afford them to be standing on the sidelines in the face of attacks on public health.

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Miriam Robles
Miriam Robles

Miriam Robles is the environmental justice organizer for Mi Familia Vota. She has degrees in international relations and environmental science from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.