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Joint air toxics research project among tribes, agencies recognized for partnership

TEMPE (March 27, 2013) - An extensive joint research project among two American Indian tribes in Arizona, the American Indian Policy Institute, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University and state environmental agencies to examine air toxics in the Phoenix Metropolitan area has received a national environmental award.

The Joint Air Toxics Assessment Project was awarded a 2013 National Environmental Excellence Award by the National Association of Environmental Professionals for partnerships. Awards will be presented at the NAEP Awards Luncheon at the 2013 NAEP/Association of Environmental Professionals Conference April 2 in Los Angeles.

"One of the most persistent difficulties in conducting environmental projects that produce useful results is the need for coordination among different jurisdictions and organizations. This was the first major research project that all the regulatory jurisdictions in the airshed participated in fully and collaboratively to assess the health consequences of 200 hazardous air pollutants," said Patricia Mariella, director of the American Indian Policy Institute at ASU. "Air pollution doesn't recognize political boundaries."

This multi-faceted project examined the sources, distribution and risks from air toxics in the greater Phoenix metropolitan airshed. Air toxics differ from most air pollutants in the Clean Air Act because there are no defined health levels for most toxics in outdoor air. The core project partners are the American Indian Policy Institute and Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, Gila River Indian Community, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency (Region 9).

While national studies indicate that residents of many communities and neighborhoods are exposed to unhealthful levels of air toxics such as benzene, the partnership was organized to measure exposure locally, which is necessary to conduct risk assessments and meaningfully reduce health risks posed by these pollutants, Mariella said.

"It was an important study. The data is consistent with what is found in other urban areas like Los Angeles," Mariella said. "We found the highest risk near freeways, particularly from diesel fuel. Risks associated with exposure to these toxics include increased chances of developing cancer.

Individuals can take actions such as: keep your vent on "recirculate" while driving on freeways or major streets; use high-quality air filters in your home if you live next to a major street or freeway; limit exercise or work outdoors next to freeways and major streets during early morning hours and for up to two hours during and just after sunset; and replace your vehicle air filter periodically.

"One of the major benefits from JATAP was the collaboration, relationship-building and trust that developed among project technical staff from the tribes and state/local agencies," Mariella said.

The American Indian Policy Institute at ASU coordinated the second phase of the project and participated in the risk assessment and risk communication elements of the project. Because Mariella had worked previously for the Gila River Indian Community and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, she already had established working relationships. Northern Arizona University served as the facilitating university for the early, data gathering phase of the project.

The Joint Air Toxics Assessment Project produced a lengthy report used to provide risk reduction information to residents as well as an air toxics emissions inventory. The JATAP partners have presented findings to the National Congress of American Indians, American Association for Aerosol Research, United States Environmental Protection Agency Region 9, the Tucson Air Quality Forum, the Arizona Asthma Coalition and others.

Contact: Julie Newberg
Arizona State University

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