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Phoenix's air quality is still among the worst in the nation

Phoenix continues to rank among the smoggiest cities in the nation. And other forms of air pollution in the Phoenix area are also becoming more severe, according to the American Lung Association's annual  State of the Air report, released Thursday. 

About 84% of Arizonans live in an area that gets a failing grade for air quality, according to the report. The Phoenix metro area is the 5th most polluted city in the country in terms of ozone, or smog, levels. And this year, Phoenix also jumped to the 11th highest spot for particulate matter pollution — the city had previously ranked 13th. 

JoAnna Strother, senior director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Arizona, said Phoenix's sun and hot weather make it more susceptible to ozone pollution. And she said drought and climate change are exacerbating other factors that contribute to poor air quality.

“What we’re seeing now in the western states is the wildfires," Strother said. "We’ve seen some of the largest wildfires in history. That has contributed to some of the rankings we’re seeing this year.” 

Strother said air pollution puts everyone at risk, especially children, older adults, pregnant people and those living with chronic disease. 

In the report, the American Lung Association recommends state and local governments invest more in electric vehicles and renewable, non-combustible energy sources. It says individuals can also help by driving less, reducing personal energy consumption and avoiding burning wood.

"We have come a long way. When we look back at 50 years of the Clean Air Act, air pollution, in general, has gotten better," Strother said. "But there's always something we can do, even individually."

Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.