Something In The Air

Schlesinger_air CBS

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

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

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 and trucks and 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," explained Howard.

There's no fancy name for it. 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," said 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 and try to clear the air.

The state is now considering a long list of recommendations requiring trucks to burn cleaner fuel and forcing 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," said Phoenix resident Herb Biernstein.

It's taken a little getting used to in this area where towns have names like Carefree and Paradise Valley that are looking more like towns called New York and L.A.



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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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