3 min read . June 7, 2022

Air Quality Index (AQI) is a tool used by environmental agencies worldwide to measure and communicate the level of air pollution. It provides a simple, easy-to-understand scale that ranges from 0 (good air quality) to 500 (hazardous). Understanding the AQI can help you make informed decisions about your daily activities and protect your health.

The AQI measures five major air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. These pollutants can have harmful effects on human health and the environment.

When pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, and industrial boilers react chemically in sunlight, they create ground-level ozone. This also occurs with refineries, chemical plants, and other sources. Ozone at ground level is a harmful pollutant that can cause respiratory problems such as coughing or shortness of breath.

Particulate matter (PM) consists of tiny particles suspended in the air. PM2.5 refers to fine particles with diameters less than 2.5 micrometers while PM10 includes larger particles up to 10 micrometers in diameter. Exposure to high levels of PM can lead to respiratory issues like asthma attacks or even heart attacks.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless gas produced by incomplete combustion of fossil fuels like gasoline or diesel fuel. High levels of CO can cause headaches and dizziness or even death if exposure continues for an extended period.

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is released when fossil fuels containing sulfur are burned for energy production or during industrial processes like metal smelting. SO2 contributes to acid rain formation and breathing difficulties for sensitive individuals.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a common pollutant from vehicles’ exhausts and industrial processes. It can cause respiratory problems and contribute to ground-level ozone formation.

Reducing Exposure to Poor Air Quality: Tips & AQI Monitoring

To protect yourself from poor air quality, it’s essential to stay informed about the AQI in your area. You can find this information on websites like AirNow or through local news sources. When the AQI is high, consider adjusting your outdoor activities accordingly.

Limiting outdoor exercise during times of high pollution is crucial for maintaining good health. If you must exercise outdoors, try doing so early in the morning or later in the evening when pollutant levels are typically lower.

If you suffer from asthma or other respiratory conditions, be sure to have a plan in place with your healthcare provider for managing symptoms during periods of poor air quality. This may include adjusting medication dosages or using a rescue inhaler more frequently.

When driving, keep windows closed and use recirculated air settings on your vehicle’s ventilation system to reduce exposure to pollutants. Avoid idling your car whenever possible as this contributes to increased emissions.

Consider investing in an indoor air purifier with a HEPA filter that can help remove particulate matter from the air inside your home. This is especially important if you live near busy roads or industrial areas where pollution levels may be higher.

Planting trees and vegetation around your home can also help improve local air quality by absorbing pollutants and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. Additionally, green spaces provide shade which helps reduce temperatures and energy consumption for cooling buildings.

Lastly, support policies aimed at reducing emissions from vehicles and industries. Advocate for cleaner transportation options and stricter regulations on industrial emissions.