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PHOENIX SMOG STATUS RECLASSIFIED TO SERIOUS

Release Date: 10/27/1997
Contact Information: Randy Wittorp, U.S. EPA, (415)744-1589

     San Francisco -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that the Phoenix metropolitan area has been reclassified from a moderate to a serious nonattainment area for ozone, a respiratory irritant in smog which can impair breathing.  Phoenix missed its 1996 Clean Air Act deadline to meet the health standard for ozone.  EPA is required by the Clean Air Act to reclassify moderate areas to serious if the air does not yet meet the public health standard.

     "Arizona has already taken ambitious steps to improve air quality and, with an even stronger clean burning gasoline program in 1998, the state is on the right track," said Felicia Marcus, EPA regional administrator.  "The goal here is air that is consistently safe to breathe and that goal is within sight.  EPA is committed to working with the state environmental and business communities to bring clean air to all Arizonans."

     Many important steps have been taken to improve Phoenix's air quality by the state legislature, local governments, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, the business community, and  environmental and health organizations.   But the state's continuing evaluation of ozone in the Phoenix area shows that further air pollution reductions will be needed to meet the health standard.

     This final determination to reclassify Phoenix is based solely on local air quality data from 1994 to 1996 as the Clean Air Act requires.  During this three year period, Phoenix and the surrounding communities experienced 13 violations of the 1- hour public health standard for ozone.  The area experienced 4 days of unhealthy ozone levels in 1996.

     There were no exceedances of the ozone standard in the Phoenix area this summer.  Comments were received on the proposal that this summer's air quality indicates that the region is close to meeting the standard.  While the recent introduction of clean burning gasoline surely contributed to lower summertime ozone levels, ozone levels were low throughout the west this year.  Because weather plays an important role, ozone levels vary from year to year, and several years of data are needed to verify that ozone levels are going down.

     EPA received other comments on the proposal as well.  It was suggested that the reclassification would impede progress toward the new, more protective ozone standard by diverting air quality managers' attention to the current standard.  Yet any additional measures undertaken in Phoenix to meet the current ozone standard will protect public health now and help the region meet the new standard when new plans are needed in the year 2003.  Until then, the current ozone standard will remain in place to ensure continued progress in improving air quality and protecting public health.

     Under the reclassification, a new ozone plan is due in December of 1998, and the new deadline for meeting the standard is November 15, 1999.  The State has already adopted or is in the process of adopting some controls that will help reduce ozone in the near term, such as improvements to the clean burning gasoline program and the vehicle emission inspection program as well as trip reduction programs and the voluntary lawnmower replacement program.  ADEQ has also completed much of the technical work needed to understand the ozone problem.  These efforts give Arizona a head start in meeting the serious area requirements.

     Exposure to ozone can reduce lung function and increase susceptibility to respiratory infection.  It can also aggravate pre-existing respiratory diseases.  Children are very sensitive to ozone exposure because their lungs are still developing and they spend more time outside, playing and exercising when ozone levels are the highest.  Symptoms of ozone exposure include chest pain, coughing, nausea, and pulmonary congestion.

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