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Air quality index: what to do if the air quality is poor in your area



  air pollution

Air pollution is more common in large cities, but can happen anywhere.


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If you live in a big city, chances are that you have seen an Air Quality Alert message on your phone or weather app at some point – especially if you've been close to the forest fires that Noord and South have devastated California in recent years. But do you know what they actually mean and what you should do if you receive a warning?

You know that pollution is harmful to your health and clean air is important. But sometimes you can feel powerless when it comes to living in an area with pollution, because you cannot simply hide in the vicinity of your air cleaner forever. Fortunately, a source called the Air Quality Index (AQI) was created by the US Environmental Protection Agency to help monitor air quality so that people can understand its impact on their health.

How does the AQI work?

The AQI reports on how clean or polluted the air is in your area and what effects breathing of the outside air can have on your health. The AQI forecast is available in 400 cities in the US and you can view regional maps that assess air quality in the US and Canada. The index is on a scale of 0 to 500 (0 is clean air and 500 is heavy pollution). Outside the US you can consult the World Air Quality Index for values ​​of air pollution around the world.

The AQI takes into account five of the most important air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act. These pollutants are ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.

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The air quality index scale assesses the air quality on a scale of 0 to 500, with 0 being the cleanest to 500 the most dangerous.


Screenshot by Mercey Livingston / CNET

What each AQI category means:

  • Good (green): 0-50 AQI means that there is little or no health risk associated with air quality
  • Moderate (yellow): 51-100 AQI indicates acceptable air quality, but some people who are sensitive to pollution or experience breathing problems may experience adverse effects, depending on the type of pollutants in the air.
  • Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (Orange): 101-150 means that there is a health risk for children, older adults, and people with heart disease and lung disease. The overall healthy population is unlikely to experience any health risks.
  • Unhealthy (red) : 151-200 AQI is considered unsafe and anyone can experience negative health effects due to air pollution.
  • Very Unhealthy (Purple) : 201-300 AQI is a serious health risk level for everyone and you may see a health warning on your phone or weather app.
  • Dangerous (Maroon) : 300 or higher AQI is considered dangerous and it is likely that an emergency or evacuation warning would be issued.

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A face mask can protect you against air pollution, as long as it is the correct type of mask.


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If air quality in your environment is compromised, you can do several things to protect yourself. Special attention should be paid to persons with impaired respiratory, lung or heart health, and to children and older adults who are generally more vulnerable.

If the air quality is unhealthy (101-150), the AQI website recommends that people who are sensitive to pollution (ie people with lung disease, asthma, children, older adults and outdoor workers) should reduce or limit time work or do outdoor activities. If the air quality is in a more moderate range (51-100), you can still protect yourself by reducing time outside if you are concerned that you are sensitive to pollution levels.

If air quality enters the unhealthy or red range (151-200), the AQI recommends that people with compromised health avoid prolonged outdoor work or activity. All others who do not have health problems must limit the time they spend outdoors.

If the air quality is within the very unhealthy or dangerous range, there is a good chance that an emergency alarm will be issued by media outputs, weather apps and more. If this is the case, everyone should avoid going outside and being exposed to the air as much as possible. People with compromised health should not go out at all to protect themselves.

If you are concerned about the air quality around you, it may help to wear a face mask when exposed to the affected air. Make sure your mask is classified as N95 and fits well to your nose and mouth. Surgical masks, medical masks and bandanas that are tied over your sound and mouth are not designed to filter out harmful air pollutants and will not protect you.


The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a doctor or other qualified health care professional for any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.


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