Don't Waste Arizona, Inc.

A non-profit environmental organization created for the protection, conservation, and preservation of the human and natural environment in and around Phoenix, and the state of Arizona.


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It's Because Of What Goes On At Night

December 2005

Do you ever wonder when you get up in the morning how and why the air got so dirty while everyone was home in bed? It's because of what goes on at night at industries that pollute.

This is a time lapse of the nighttime activities of a sand and gravel operation in the vicinity of 51st Avenue and the Salt River bed in Phoenix. It is characteristic of the nighttime activities of sand and gravel outfits and asphalt plants along the Salt River bed and Sun City.






These facilities are supposed to prevent such thick clouds of dust and smoke from escaping into our air, but the operators of these facilities know, as do many other businesses who also emit extra pollution late at night, that the county air agency that issues air pollution permits and is supposed to enforce the rules against these types of emissions does not have inspectors on duty at night, weekends, or holidays. It has been this way for decades. In the late 1980s, a citizen could call in a complaint and at least an inspector could be paged and potentially cajoled into inspecting a facility, but over the years, even that option was eliminated. A facility can spew excess dust and smoke unabated even if people nearby are coughing and wheezing from the pollution because there is no way to get an enforcement person out to stop the violation of the laws. The pollution that has been emitted during this may dissipate, but it is merely fouling the air further away at lower levels. The notoriously dirty air over the Phoenix metro area in December 2005 should tell us where this pollution has dissipated. The suffering and additional costs to people who have respiratory problems is also well documented.

Maricopa County is deemed serious for particulate matter air pollution. Particulate matter 10 microns or less on size, or PM10, is so small that the nose and lungs cannot filter it out. It goes directly into the lungs, where it shortens breath and life. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in December 2000 correlated a rise in particulate matter with an immediate increase in the death rate the next day. The study was of Phoenix and 19 other cities. So particulate matter kills.

The new agency created for Maricopa County to handle air quality issues now promises that there will inspectors who will work at night under special circumstances, such as when there is a citizen complaint. But there is a problem with the delay.

Even when citizens call the complaint line to report a violation, the complaint is not immediately investigated. There will be a delay before the investigator arrives, sometimes hours or a day, and many times, the cloud of dust or smoke will have dissipated. Nothing takes the place of an inspector who is out looking for violations and can intervene at the time of the violation. What would it be like if there were no police patrolling at night, or on weekends?

Air agency directors have been confronted and cajoled for years about this, as well as EPA, which supplied a large amount of money to help Maricopa County enforce against PM10 violations, and still there are no nighttime inspectors.

The ADEQ has similar problems. See DWAZ┬╣s link about the nighttime activities in Hayden, Arizona at for another toxic example. When ADEQ Director Steve Owens was provided a copy of the videotape of the nighttime emissions, it took his agency over a year to send out inspectors. In November 2004, when asked about the progress of the "investigation" and potential enforcement activities, DWAZ was told by Nancy Wrona, director of ADEQ's Air Quality Division, in front of Mr. Owens, that someone from ADEQ was tipping off ASARCO whenever the nighttime inspectors went to try to catch this activity, so ASARCO had not been "caught." (Of course, the videotape of the activities speaks for itself, but the ADEQ won't use it for enforcement purposes. Do you think that if a citizen videotaped a crime - like murder - and gave it to the sheriff that he'd reject it - or would he use it in the prosecution?)