You know it’s bad when the Air Quality Index (AQI) is red, but just how bad is it? And what, exactly, should you do? Read on to learn the air quality grading basics, plus bad air days’ dos and don’ts.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculates a daily Air Quality Index (AQI) that analyzes levels of the five major air pollutants, then assigns it a number from 0 to 500. The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution, and so the greater the health concern. Anything under 100 is considered satisfactory. Values above 100 begin to get unhealthy, affecting the most sensitive breathers among us initially, and pretty much everyone as it inches toward 500. You can look up your local AQI anytime at AirNow.gov*.
To make things easier to understand, the EPA has linked concern levels and colors to the various AQI ranges:
See AQI chart here: Do you have any images or graphics I can download?
The higher the AQI, the more you should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion outside, according to the EPA. Plan any outdoor activities for the morning, when ozone levels are generally lower, or move them to another day. Take breaks. Watch for signs that air pollution is affecting you, such as coughing and shortness of breath. And asthma sufferers should definitely keep quick-relief medication handy. On days when the AQI is more than 300, everyone should avoid outdoor physical activity altogether.
That said, “inside” isn’t a sealed off clean-air bubble. According to the American Lung Association (ALA), indoor air quality can be just as bad, if not worse than outdoor air quality**. Plus, most people spend as much as 90 percent of their time indoors. You need to be sure the air you’re breathing inside is as clean as possible.
Some select tips from the ALA****:
*Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=pubs.aqiguideozone
**American Lung Association: http://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/indoor/at-home/