Brown Cloud over Retirement

Phyllis Churchill and her fellow lawn bowlers chose Arizona as their retirement getaway. Warm sunny days, nothing but blue skies. They got the endless summer, but as CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports, there's something in the air that's starting to sting.


"You just see this yellow haze just sitting on the ground and it makes you kind of wonder what you're breathing in," says Churchill.


Just above the Phoenix skyline, a dark cloud has hung over the area for the past seven years or so--an icky mix of carbon monoxide, ozone, dust and road dirt caused by an explosion in the number of cars, trucks, people, and buildings.


Many days it forces Diane Howard to stay inside. Diane suffers from emphysema and thought the air here was dry enough and clean enough to make her life a little easier. Now she has to listen for warnings about air quality before she leaves home.


"But I do go out, and when I do, I carry oxygen and that alleviates the problem most of the time," explains Howard.


There's no fancy name for trouble in the air. Scientists call it the brown cloud. Every day county environmentalists check their monitors to measure how dirty the air is. And once a week they shoot a beam of light across the city to measure how much visibility has been lost.


It's bad in the wintertime--worse in the summertime.


"It surprises me from how I was brought up to believe this was the clean air capital of the world," admitted Dr. William Reese, a lung specialist who's business is a little too good.


"We do see more frequent hospitalizations, more frequent emergency room visits, and also more frequent office visits because of the air," says Williams.


After years of warnings about the air, Arizona took a deep breath and took its first step towards a solution. The governor appointed a blue ribbon commission called the Brown Cloud Summit to sift through the causes of the problem in an effort to clear the air.


The state is now considering a long list of recommendations, including rules for trucks to burn cleaner fuel and efforts to get builders to control the dust kicked up on construction sites.


But the people who've been here a long time know there's a long way to go.


"Seeing the mountains around the valley, many times it's difficult to see 'em through the haze," says Phoenix resident, Herb Biernstein.


Neighbors say it's taken a little getting used to, given towns in the area have names like Carefree and Paradise Valley, when they are looking more like places called New York and L.A.



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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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