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  • Experimental Air Quality Forecasting & Mapping

    Mapping and Predicting Air Pollutants

    A View Into Current Air Quality Research

    Centuries of atmospheric physics, chemistry, weather and soil science — and decades of orbiting and geostationary satellites with their sensors pointed toward Earth — lead us to a laboratory at George Mason University where computer models of the atmosphere are developed and tested to predict air quality. This laboratory, led by Dr. Daniel Tong, is one of many around the world that share methods and data to sustain Earth’s life-supporting atmosphere. It is where care for the global environment and local air quality becomes one. Pima County Department of Environmental Quality is honored to partner with these scientists to provide community access to this specialized air quality mapping system

    Background on the Air We All Breathe

    Like so many areas around the world, Pima County has days where levels of airborne particles and ground-level ozone pollution can be problematic for certain groups of people. Fortunately, these very same problem pollutants are being studied and mapped by Dr. Tong’s team. GMU has developed a 24-hour experimental air pollution forecast maps for ozone and PM2.5 to help residents plan ahead if air pollution levels are going to be elevated. These forecasts can allow residents to help reduce air pollutant levels when the forecast is for higher levels, and to allow vulnerable residents to plan their outdoor activities to avoid exposure.

    Particulate Matter

    EPA Particulate Matter Info Airborne particulate matter is not unusual across America’s arid west—particles of fertilizer, pollen, mold, minerals, feed lot and other dirt—picked up and carried along by local gusts of wind and the spectacular, thankfully infrequent, mile-high walls of dust in an Arizona haboob. Some particles are large and drop out quickly, but often not before obstructing the view of highway drivers. Smaller particles travel great distances, as from Asian deserts to California. If inhaled, some particles, such as Valley fever fungi, can cause disease. The smallest of particles are invisible to the naked eye and can travel into human lungs where they obstruct respiratory processes and can pass into the blood stream.

    The scientists of health and environmental quality have grouped these particles into two size categories, PM10 and PM2.5 — particulate matter of diameter 10 millionths of a meter and smaller, and 2.5 millionths of a meter and smaller, respectively. To give perspective as to the minuscule size of these particles the US Environmental Protection Agency has developed this diagram. Whatever the particle size, reducing exposure to these airborne particles is beneficial to one’s health.

    Ground-level Ozone

    Ozone FormationGround-level ozone is an invisible gas that damages vegetation and can cause severe irritation to respiratory systems. It’s creation is driven by the action of intense ultraviolet light on the precursor pollutants, oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds. The ingredients for ozone are numerous and include emissions from vehicles, industry, gasoline-powered equipment and evaporates from such things as gasoline, paint thinner and certain types of vegetation.

    Ozone acts like an oxidant and reacts with lung tissue causing difficulty for those with respiratory ailments. Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and airway inflammation. It also can reduce lung function and harm lung tissue. Ozone can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma, leading to increased medical care. It is an air quality hazard recognized around the world.
    For those who are at-risk when levels of either air pollutant are elevated, it is important to know when to limit exposure to outside air. These maps will provide an insight into the air quality future.
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    Department of Environmental Quality

    33 N. Stone Ave., Suite 700
    Tucson, AZ 85701

    Phone: (520) 724-7400
    Fax: (520) 838-7432


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