Air quality is a measure of how clean or polluted the air is, and what health effects it may have on people and the environment. Air quality can vary from place to place and from time to time, depending on various factors such as weather, emissions, geography and human activities. Air quality can affect our health, well-being, productivity and enjoyment of life.
What is the Air Quality Index?
The Air Quality Index (AQI) is a tool that helps us understand and communicate the level of air pollution in a given area. It is a numerical scale that ranges from 0 to 500, where higher values indicate higher levels of air pollution and greater health risks. The AQI is calculated based on the concentrations of five major air pollutants: particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and carbon monoxide (CO). Each pollutant has a different effect on health and the environment, and each has a different standard or guideline for what is considered safe or acceptable.
The AQI assigns a color code and a descriptive term to each range of values, to help us interpret the meaning and implications of the index. The table below shows the AQI categories and their corresponding colors, values and health effects.
How can I check the AQI?
There are various sources and platforms that provide real-time or forecasted AQI information for different locations around the world. Some examples are:
AirNow.gov: This is the official website of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that provides AQI data and maps for the United States and some international locations. It also provides information on the health effects of air pollution, tips on how to protect yourself and reduce your emissions, and educational resources on air quality.
World Air Quality Index: This is a project that collects and displays AQI data from more than 10,000 stations in more than 80 countries around the world. It also provides historical data, forecasts, rankings, alerts and widgets for air quality.
National Weather Service: This is a service of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that provides weather forecasts, warnings, observations and climate information for the United States and its territories. It also provides AQI maps and forecasts for different regions in the country.
Why should I care about the AQI?
The AQI is important because it helps us understand how the air we breathe affects our health and well-being. Exposure to high levels of air pollution can cause various short-term and long-term health problems, such as:
- Irritation of the eyes, nose and throat
- Coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and asthma attacks
- Headaches, dizziness, fatigue and nausea
- Increased risk of respiratory infections, allergies and chronic lung diseases
- Increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes
- Increased risk of cancer
- Reduced life expectancy
Some people are more sensitive or vulnerable to the effects of air pollution than others, such as:
- Pregnant women
- People with existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions
- People who are active outdoors
By checking the AQI regularly, we can make informed decisions about our outdoor activities, protect ourselves and our loved ones from harmful exposure, and take action to improve our air quality.