How to know when air quality is poor and what to do about it
Air pollution is hazardous for both the environment and people. Here are some quick tips to help limit the amount of pollution in the air, and improve air quality.
The average person breathes 3,400 gallons of air each day. Around 4.6 million people die every year due to air pollution and poor air quality, according to statistics from the World Health Organization.
If you live in or near a big city, there’s a very high probability that you’ve got an air quality alert on your phone. But do you know what it actually means and what to do about it? Here’s what you need to know about air quality:
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Air Quality Index (AQI)
The US Environmental Protection Agency created AQI as a way to track the air quality around us. AQI also forecasts future air quality conditions across 400 US cities and some major international cities as well. AQI is measured on a scale of 0 – 500, with 0 being pure air and 500 and above representing a hazardous quality of air. In 2019 the AQI measurement in New Delhi, the Indian capital, surpassed 999 — the last possible measurement on the AQI scale. Breathing that air has the health consequences of smoking 25 cigarettes. That’s a pretty sober comparison of the poor air quality in New Delhi
How do you know when air quality is poor?
In extremely bad air quality conditions like what happened in New Delhi, you can see the pollution hanging in the air as smoky smog. You can probably smell the pollution as well. But what about situations where the air quality is poor but less noticeable to your senses? To give the public a more universal way to measure air quality, the AQI is divided into a colored scale:
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1- Green (Good)
This represents an AQI in the range of 0-50. When the air quality is green, you can be outside with little or no risk of damaging your health due to air pollution.
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2- Yellow (Moderate)
An Air Quality Indexin the range of 51-100. This represents a satisfactory level, but people with heightened sensitivity to air pollution or who have difficulty breathing may experience some negative effects.
Photo by Marcinjozwiak
3- Orange (Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups)
An AQI in the range of 101-150. This means little or no negative impact on the general population, but the air quality poses a health risk for people who are more vulnerable to pollution including those with asthma or heart and lung disease, children, and pregnant women.
Photo by Holger Link
4- Red (Unhealthy)
An AQI in the range of 151-200. This means that everyone could experience adverse health effects due to poor air quality.
Photo by Joanne Francis
5- Purple (Very Unhealthy)
An AQI in the range of 201-300. This reflects a serious health risk for everyone. In these conditions, avoid going outside due to poor air quality.
Photo by Skeeze
6- Maroon (Hazardous)
An AQI in the range of 301-500. This air quality is so hazardous people will be instructed to evacuate.
Photo by Robert Pastryk
How to protect yourself when the air quality is bad
Avoid outdoor activities, especially if you have heart or lung conditions.
If you cannot limit the time you spend outdoors in severely bad air quality conditions, wear a face mask. Choose a mask with a rating of N95, which is technically a respirator. Ordinary medical masks will not be able to protect you in severe conditions because they do not filter out harmful air pollutants.
Lastly, do your part to help make sure air quality doesn’t get worse. Turn off unnecessary electricity, turn down the air conditioning, carpool, or ride your bike for short trips. All of these simple things will reduce the number of pollutants being pumped into the air.
Photo by Hudson Hintze
Air quality is a serious matter that impacts how you feel and your long-term wellness. This is particularly true for children, the elderly and anyone who is dealing with a lung or heart condition. The best way to know if the air quality around you is safe is to check the AQI rating. To stay on top of the latest air quality news, check out the AccuWeather air quality blog or use our Air Quality Index page for your local rating.
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