Air samples from a south-central Phoenix neighborhood confirm residents’ complaints that a hazardous air pollutant is hovering in the area.
But distrustful residents doubted the results, revealed last week by state environmental officials at the initial meeting of a project to reduce toxic exposure in south Phoenix.
Rain on three of the five testing days in late February fueled the residents’ skepticism.
Many viewing the results last Thursday thought the rain negated the air-pollution findings, even though the results tracked with their long-standing beliefs.
Arizona Department of Environmental Quality scientists tested for hydrogen fluoride emissions outside a private residence near the Phoenix Brickyard, Seventh Avenue and Mohave Street.
Although the samples showed levels of the pollutant were generally low, there was a spike on one of the rainy days when the chemical approached the limit of the state’s health-based guideline.
Hydrogen fluoride is a byproduct of the baking process that converts clay into brick. In its gaseous form, it can irritate the eyes and respiratory system, creating a burning sensation. In acute exposures, it can cause swelling in the lungs.
Pauline Taffeta, one of the members of the newly formed Community Action Council, called the results bogus because the three days of rain should wash out the air-sampling results.
“I don’t think a five-day study tells you anything that is meaningful,” said Greta Rogers, another council member.
But Dray Anderson, a scientist with the state environmental agency, said gases such as hydrogen fluoride persist even in rain.
She cautioned that more tests should be done, especially in more-typical weather conditions when the wind is following its normal east-west pattern.
But the spike in hydrogen fluoride readings – 20 parts per billion compared to the standard of 24 ppb – came on a day when the wind was blowing northwesterly, into the neighborhood that surrounds the brickyard.
The community skepticism is one of the barriers that project directors will have to overcome as they move ahead with the South Phoenix Toxics Reduction Program.
Over the next few months, the project will attempt to identify some of the most toxic sites in the area south of downtown and then rely on community advice on what areas to tackle.
Despite the skepticism, council members expressed hope that their work would result in cleaner, safer neighborhoods.
“The fact that we live in south Phoenix doesn’t mean we don’t care,” said Patricia Tobin, principal of South Mountain High School. “It doesn’t mean we don’t want the best.”
Ruby Cruz, who lives across the street from the Phoenix Brickyard, said the project is long overdue.
Project directors hope to have a draft version of a toxics-reduction plan by fall.
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