PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- People from all over the country move to Arizona because of our weather. Dry, hot summers and mild winters sound pretty good if you’re used to hurricanes, tornadoes and blizzards.
But a CBS 5 Investigation found that Arizona’s weather can also be deadly. But it’s deadly in a different way.
“In 2018, there were over 200,000 asthma and emphysema hospitalizations and emergency room visits alone. That same year, 4,000 people die from those diseases,” said Rebecca Sunenshine, MD, who is the medical director for disease control with Maricopa County.
[RELATED: Is the weather in Arizona making you sick?]
Sunenshine says it is tiny particles in the air that can cause those ER visits, as well as heart attacks in people across the Valley.
CBS 5 Investigates compared data on the number of deaths per day with data on air quality alerts, and found spikes in the number of deaths on “bad air days.”
At the heart of those bad air days is Arizona’s weather, according to Matthew Pace, Ph.D., with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.
[RELATED: Dust storms heighten risk of Valley fever]
“Everyone talks about the big monsoon thunderstorms that move through. That’s going to create the dust, that huge mile-high wall of dust,” said Pace.
But he argues that even worse for air quality than the summer dust storms is the lack of wind that the Valley sees between November and January.
“That allows pollutants, especially the PM 10 and PM 2.5 to really build up in the Valley,” said Pace, referring to the tiny particles that lodge inside people’s lungs and cause breathing problems.
Sunenshine says doctors have not found a direct correlation between bad air days and a spike in deaths, but she also says it's possible that the correlation exists.
The numbers that CBS 5 Investigatesreviewed included all deaths across the state, from car crashes to natural causes to murders. But there were consistent spikes after bad air days and dust storms.
For example, after a large dust storm in July of 2011, the number of deaths across the state rose from 112 on the day of the storm, to 133 the following day, to 144 the next day.