Air Quality & Your Health: What You Need to Know

Posted by Adam Moxon on

Air Quality & Your Health: What You Need to Know

We’ve all seen the pictures of cities almost completely socked in by smog. Smog is air pollution that becomes trapped in the lowest levels of the atmosphere. Have you ever wondered what this is doing to the air quality in the environment you live in?

Air pollution and smog can occur in industrial valleys, in the wintertime, in areas where industry and traffic are high, and in surrounding mountains that can maximize pollution getting trapped in small areas.

Right now, the wildfires in California and Oregon are producing smoke that is wreaking havoc on air quality as far east as New York– and our climate issues sadly continue.

Bad Air Quality Causes

There are many different causes of poor air quality. In a city, air pollution can be caused by fumes from cars, buses and other traffic including airplanes. In rural areas, dust from tractors plowing fields, vehicles on gravel roads, rock quarries and smoke from wood burning can cause air pollution. This is called ground level ozone or urban smog.

Ozone is a natural and man-made gas you’ve probably heard of as a layer high up in Earth’s atmosphere. This ozone layer is a good thing—it helps block us from the Sun’s harmful radiation. However, ground level ozone is bad for human health. It is created when sunlight reacts with certain chemical emissions (for example nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and methane). These chemicals can come from industrial facilities, car exhaust, gasoline vapors and other sources.

Air Quality Index (AQI) & Levels

Air Quality is measured with the Air Quality Index (AQI). It works like a thermometer that runs from 0 to 500 degrees, but instead of showing changes in the temperature, the AQI shows changes in the amount of pollution in the air. Just like the temperature is reported daily, the AQI is reported daily to tell you how clean or polluted the air is in areas. Monitoring air quality is important because the effects of poor air quality can affect your health in dramatic ways. 

There are six levels of AQI rankings; the higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater a health concern:

  • Good: 0 to 50. Air quality is considered satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risk.
  • Moderate: 51 to 100. Air quality is acceptable; however, for some pollutants there may be moderate health concern for a very small number of people who are unusually sensitive to air pollution.
  • Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. 101 to 150. Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is not likely to be affected.
  • Unhealth. 151 to 200. Everyone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.
  • Very Unhealthy. 201 to 300. Health alert; everyone may experience more serious health effects.
  • Hazardous. 301 to 500. Health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected.

Where Does Air Quality Information Come From?

Sensitive instruments on the ground and satellites orbiting around Earth collect information on air quality. Certain satellites monitor the particle pollution in our atmosphere and others collect information about the particles in our air. Some satellites provide particle pollution measurements every five minutes during the day, while others measure the aerosols over the entire planet once a day. One satellite can also measure carbon monoxide, which is associated with poor air quality resulting from wildfires.

As you can see, providing real-time air quality information is important and necessary with a great deal of time, equipment and effort put into monitoring and reporting the AQI.

Where You Can Find The AQI

Checking your local air quality is as easy as checking the weather! You can find real-time AQI numbers on the internet and in your local news media. Go to the AIRNow website to find national air quality information for over 300 cities across the United States. Many local news media (television, radio and newspapers) and national news media (CNN and The Weather Channel) provide daily air quality reports as part of the weather forecast.

If air quality is of a high concern for you and your health, you can sign up to receive AQI by email through EnviroFlash. It is a free service that will alert you by email when air quality is forecasted to be a concern in your area.

Poor Air Quality: Who Is At Risk?

People are particularly sensitive to the ozone gas outdoors, especially if they are being physically active while outdoors. Ozone levels are higher outdoors than indoors, and physical activity also causes faster and deeper breathing, which draws more ozone into the body. 

The most susceptible are:

  • People with respiratory issues. Lung diseases like asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema can all put people at a higher risk level and those with these conditions generally will experience more serious health effects even at lower levels. Ozone can aggravate their diseases, which lead to increased medication use or doctor and Emergency Room visits.

  • Children. As children tend more often to play outdoors (especially in warmer weather when ozone levels are higher) than indoors, they are at a higher risk to develop asthma due to their lungs being more vulnerable and still developing. This also includes teenagers.

  • Older adults. Pre-existing lung conditions are common among the elderly, which means this population is very much more affected by ozone exposure.

In general, if ground level ozone increases, more people will begin to experience serious health effects, even if healthy. When levels are high, everyone should be concerned about ozone exposure.

Invest In Your Protection

Are you traveling to an area that has poor air quality, gearing up for the next wildfire season, or feeling effects in your own town? Whatever the case is, if you are on the hunt for a reusable face mask that will last you more than one use and protect you from dangerous air pollution, then check out our line of anti-pollution masks. They are specifically engineered to provide you with the maximum level of protection for whatever number the AQI is currently!