Maricopa County residents and businesses will now be able to receive real-time text alerts when dust pollution reaches levels that are potentially dangerous.

The Rapid Response Notification System was launched on Wednesday by the Maricopa County Air Quality Department and is intended to both warn residents of health hazards and to prompt people to take action to reduce the amount of dust in the air.

The system uses the existing 12 monitors located around the Valley to measure the particles, but with new software it is able to send air quality data to the department every five minutes. Now officials will be able to take action the moment a problem is identified.

The need for such a system became evident after party-goers in south Phoenix stirred up enough dust to cause one monitor to register levels above those allowed by federal standards. The party was on a Saturday night and the violation was not discovered until Monday.

“We’d like to move forward and avoid this happening again,” said Holly Ward, public relations officer for the department, who adds “all of us are notified so we can stop pollution before it becomes a concern.”

Maricopa County has struggled with meeting the standards of the federal Clean Air Act in the past and is currently in the last year of a three-year plan to clean up the air. Failure to stay in compliance could mean sanctions and the loss of up to $7 billion in federal transportation dollars. This money is used to fund projects such as new roads and highways.

Health concerns are also a reason why the county is taking steps to warn residents about air quality as quickly as possible. According to Ward, small particles roughly one-eighth the size of a human hair can settle deep into the lungs and cause breathing problems.

“The federal health standard is good for those of us that breath because it is about our lungs and our health,” said Ward, who adds that the standard is based on what the lungs can take, not on climate.

“To have a heads up would really be a godsend for a lot of people with asthma,” said Joy Autore of Chandler, who moved to the Valley of the Sun from Nebraska because of her breathing problems.

Autore said that both she and her daughter, who also has asthma, have trouble breathing because of a decline in the air quality over the last 10 years. She welcomes the new text alert system and hopes it will help remind her daughter to use her inhaler.

“If you’re not near a TV or a computer you don’t see that stuff coming in, so a text alert would be wonderful,” Autore said.

While it is too soon to know exactly how many alerts the system will generate, Ward estimates that it will probably be around one or two every month. Those interested in receiving the alerts can sign up at The website also provides tips on how to reduce the amount of dust in the air, such as keeping all-terrain vehicles on designated trails.

The Rapid Response Notification System upgrade was funded by the Maricopa Association of Governments.

• Morgan Sailor is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a senior at Arizona State University.

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