Tucson is a place where dripping laundry dries on the line in less than an hour. Grass catchers on lawnmowrrs catch more sand and dirt than grass. There are more bored TV weathermen in Tucson than any other place-they say sunny and 85 day in and day out. Old B-52s and U-2s are stored here-outside-because they last longer. And children greet rain in Tucson with the same giddy enthusiasm as the first snow engenders in eastern kids.
Tucson, like many Arizona cities, is also place where people go to rid themselves of asthma and allergies. But the person with allergies all too often finds only temporary relief. Symptoms may reappear in a month to two years. Also, people with no history of allergies may find themselves wheezing and sneezing for the first time in their lives.
Since the turn of the century. Tuckson's climate has been considered an excellent treatment for tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases.
But visitors recently have been discovering that the dry air, so good for the B-52s and the laundry, is also the perfect carrier of an increasing number of allergy-producing dirt, dust, mold spores, and new combinations of pollen.
A controversy exists as to where these substances, called allergens, are coming from,
Some blame it on the very people who come to Tucson to flee their allergies-the easterners. According to the Tucson Chamber of Commerce, an average of 1,500 persons move here monthly. The population has increased about 20 percent from 1976 and, according to one chamber official, the population will double by the year 2000.
The developers prepare for the monthly influx by leveling tracts of land, often destroying native vegetation-including 100-year-old cacti-replacing them with "introduced plants."
These plants are preferred by the newcomers because they grow quickly, they are cheap, and they provide shade and relief from what many feel is Tucson's sandy, oppressive, desert motif. They include Bermuda grass, olive and pecan trees, and the purported villian of them all-the fruitless mulberry.
The introduced plants add pollen to the air and are thought to be a drain on Tucson's dwindling water table. For example, the fruitless mulberry, planted extensively over the past 30 years, adds pollen grains during February, March and April. Pecan trees, planted because of their ornamental value and introduced more recently in orchards south of Tucson, also contribute new pollen.
George Brookbank, an urban horticulturist associated with the University of Arizona, suggests that the fruitless mulberry may be getting a bad rap, adding that "sometimes people get allergies just from reading about them in the paper." A pollen roundup appears daily in the local newspaper.
Brookbank adds that desert plants also have pollen and that trees are not the only factors reducing the water table. Car washes, and a seemingly endless production of new homes, some with swimming pools, are greater factors, according to Brookbank.
The Southern Arizona Homebuilders Association list 323 housing starts for the City of Tucson for January-March 1979. For the same period, housing starts for Pima County, not including the City of Tucson, reached 1,237.
Linda Alpert, a registered nurse in the allergy and respiratory center at Tucson Medical Center (formerly a TB sanitorium), says that developers should retain native plants instead of introducing other vegetation. She stresses that native plants produce pollen grains but are not a source of irritation because pollination for these plants is carried out by insects and not the wind.
In a booklet written for the person with allergies coming to Tucson, Alpert says that "a large amount of allergy-producing pollen is due to introduced plants rather than native vegetation."
She believes most people don't care about the situation unless they are asthmatic or suffer from allergies. Three years ago, the city council defeated a measure to ban the fruitless mulberry, fearing the action would set a precedent that could result in countless other plants being banned.
Alpert says that nurseries could help by selling female mulberry trees, which don't produce irritating pollen. But according to one nursery, the female mulberry is to messy because of the falling berries. Alpert suggests that there should be more widespread use of deed restrictions limiting introduced vegetation. Also, incentives could be provided to encourage the builder to save native plants by transplanting.
As with the new homes, it would appear that the fruitless mulberry is one more symptom of a disorder many Arizonians have come to fear-uncontrolled growth. CAPTION: Picture 1, Bermuda grass and fruitless mulberry trees brought new allergens to the Tucson area. By Harrison Shaffer III for the Washington Post; Picture 2, Some homeowners choose to retain the natural growth found on sites near Tucson.By Harrison Shaffer III for The Washington Post