Getting some ‘fresh’ air? Check out the AQI first


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Next time you’re listening to the weather forecast deciding whether to wear sunglasses or galoshes, you may want to keep your ears open for the Air Quality Index in your neighborhood. Certain groups, including children, people with asthma and those who exercise or work outdoors should pay even closer attention to the AQI report and listen for warnings concerning them.

AQI tracks both smog (ozone) and particle pollution, which includes everything from vehicle exhaust to pollen. The index is determined by measuring air pollution levels daily in more than 900 counties across the United States and ranking them on a scale of 0 for perfect air to 500 for pollution levels that indicate immediate danger to the public. To make things easier for us folks to understand, the AQI breaks the scale down into five categories with a name, color and advice to go with them.

So how bad is the air really? The National Resources Defense Council reports more than 2,000 "code orange" air quality alerts — meaning the air is unhealthy for sensitive groups — occurred nationwide in just the first seven months of this year, with many areas having long stretches of days with bad air due to elevated smog levels.
OK, so the air isn’t “so fresh and so clean clean.” Here’s what you can do to protect yourself, courtesy of the American Lung Association.

  • If the index is a code orange or worse, you may want to rethink that 5-mile outdoor run. The deep, rapid breathing associated with exercise can exacerbate the effects of ozone and particle pollution. If you must exercise outside, try to avoid high-traffic areas.
  • If you have asthma, cardiovascular disease or diabetes, you especially will want to limit your time outdoors if the air quality is not suitable for sensitive groups.

If you’ve never heard your weather forecaster talk about air quality, be sure to call your local media and tell them you’d like them to offer this information. In the meantime, you can check out www.airnow.gov for maps of real-time pollution levels across the country. There you can also sign up to get air quality forecasts emailed to you or sent to your mobile phone.