Valley residents are about to be tested in the fight against air pollution.
Tuesday begins the Valley’s designated "ozone season," and the start of what state health and environment officials are promoting as a six-month training period to prepare the area for living under stricter federal antipollution regulations.
The restrictions will take effect next year, but the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the Regional Public Transportation Authority will urge pre-emptive action to get the Valley accustomed to tougher rules.
Residents will be asked to boost efforts from April to September to reduce auto emissions or smog.
Current standards for pollution levels have not been exceeded in the past six years. There have been highpollution alerts, which are issued when ozone levels come close to exceeding restrictions. Alerts were issued three days in 2001 and 11 days last year.
Using next year’s standards as a gauge, however, officials expect the Valley to see alerts on as many as 40 days this spring and summer, said DEQ spokesman Patrick Gibbons.
The alerts signal unhealthy air conditions for those with respiratory ailments, young children and the elderly.
Trouble spots are likely to arise in the East Valley. Ozone normally builds early in the day in the more heavily trafficked area of central Phoenix.
But prevailing seasonal winds typically move hot air masses east throughout the day. By late afternoon, the highest ozone concentrations often show up as far east as Fountain Hills, in north Scottsdale and in the Superstition Mountains area east of Mesa.
The new restrictions to be imposed in 2004 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are a response to the latest health research findings.
"The good news is that air quality overall is getting better," Gibbons said. "The bad news is that the more we learn about (air pollution), the more we realize it is more harmful than we first thought. So we need to get stricter with regulations."
The agency plans to issue weekly ozone forecasts. When levels get high, an "ozone health watch" will be announced and residents will be asked to reduce driving by carpooling, using public transportation, biking or walking.