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ASU joins air quality project

September 26, 2008

Arizona State University’s American Indian Policy Institute is working with American Indian tribal governments, the state of Arizona and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to research and assess air quality in central Arizona.

The Joint Air Toxics Assessment Project (JATAP) is a multi-jurisdictional effort to assess the distribution, sources and potential health risks associated with air toxics in the Valley. It was initiated by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, which was interested in learning more about the possible transport of air toxics from nearby urban areas and from a major transportation route through its community.    

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the Gila River Indian Community joined the project, along with the US Environmental Protection Agency, to better understand the sources and distribution of air toxics throughout the Valley with the ultimate goal of reducing health and environmental risks posed by pollution.   

A key element of the project was the understanding that air pollution does not stop at jurisdictional boundaries.   

The JATAP partners selected seven monitoring sites in the study area. The sites sampled air toxics from 2005 to 2006 and were located in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community; central, west and south Phoenix areas; Queen Valley; and the Gila River Indian Community.  

The monitors found and measured 16 pollutants, 10 of them identified as potential carcinogens.   

Analysis of the data indicates that the highest concentrations of air toxics are emitted primarily from vehicles. Decreasing concentrations were found at monitors whose locations were further from major transportation routes. The lowest air toxics levels were seen at the Queen Valley remote site, followed by the Gila River and Salt River monitoring sites.

“It is important to measure the presence of these substances because long term and uncontrolled exposure to them can have adverse consequences for human health as well as the environment,” says Dennis Pagano, environmental health scientist for the EPA.

“The understanding of these potential exposures can help communities develop strategies to reduce those exposures and protect the health of their residents.”  

Pagano, who is on a detail from EPA, has been working in the ASU American Indian Policy Institute for the past 10 months coordinating project activities and assisting in the development and implementation of a risk assessment using the JATAP monitoring data.

Dr. Patricia Mariella, director of the American Indian Policy Institute, says the project was groundbreaking because of the excellent collaboration among tribes, the state and counties in an effort to better understand air pollution. In addition, the tribes and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality gathered high quality micro and neighborhood scale monitoring data that had not been available before the project work.

”The excellent quality of the field data as well as the sophisticated levels of laboratory analysis are critical to conducting meaningful risk assessments to understand the health effects of air toxics. Dr. Mariella is coordinating the JATAP efforts to develop communication and outreach plans and researched air toxics mitigation strategies from across the United States.   

The research included analysis of the unintended consequences (school overcrowding) of a state of California ban on the expansion or construction of schools near freeways to reduce risks from air pollution.  

The American Indian Policy Institute’s research on risk reduction also identified a range of strategies for existing sensitive land uses near high-traffic roadways, including use of electrostatic filters in buildings, roadway design and materials, limitations on diesel-using truck traffic and use of toxic-filtering plants as part of roadway landscaping.  

These mitigation findings are of particular importance to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, which has the 101 freeway running through it, to the Gila River Indian Community, which has been approached as a possible location for the proposed South Mountain Freeway, and to communities throughout the state with high-traffic roadways.   

The project succeeded in developing a lasting relationship among the various partner agencies, obtaining a metropolitan-wide understanding of exposures and risks, and developing a dynamic model that could have a practical application in other communities.