Spring is in full bloom, which means summer is right around the corner! The days are getting longer and warmer with more time being spent outdoors in the fresh air. This means open windows, heavy use of chemical cleaners to cross off those spring cleaning to-do’s, and higher exposure to allergens and poor air quality.
What Is the Air Quality of My Neighborhood?
The Air Quality Index (AQI) is an index for reporting daily air quality; it tells you how clean or polluted your air is as well as what associated health effects you should be concerned about.2 The Environmental Protection Agency calculates the AQI for five major air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. You can find the AQI for your area here: https://www.airnow.gov/.
Why Is Air Quality So Important?
The quality of the air you breathe has a large impact on your quality of life. Imagine breathing in heavy soot, smoke, dust, and allergens on a daily basis. These pollutants are bound to have negative consequences on your health and the environment. Children, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable to heart and lung disease. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides reader-friendly information on diseases and conditions related to heart, lung, and blood diseases and conditions and sleep disorders that are caused by air pollution.3
What Are the Health Effects From Poor Air Quality?
Depending on where you live, the quality of the air in your home, and the quality of the air outdoors, you could experience air pollution-related health consequences. Breathing in pollutants such as soot, smoke, any of the five major air pollutants, pollen, or other allergens can cause wheezing, itchy/watery eyes, cough, or even an asthma attack. Air pollution has been associated with an increase in childhood asthma rates. The number of cases has more than doubled from 1978 to 1995 (from 2.5 percent to 11.5 percent).4
What Can You Do?
Monitor the AQI in your area on a daily basis and adhere to recommendations of when to avoid being outside (usually early afternoon until early evening when air pollutants are at their highest concentration). Avoid exercising outdoors during these times and stay well hydrated. Keep an eye on children, older adults, those with compromised immune systems, and pets! Long-term solutions include decreasing your energy consumption (e.g., turn off electronics, don’t run the AC or heat during the day if no one is at home), switching to cleaner energy alternatives (i.e., solar panels, wind), and increasing your use of public transportation (or even better—biking or walking whenever possible). Together, we can improve our air quality and overall health!
1 Ahmed, N. The death of the fossil fuel. Island Breath (Ea O Ka Aina) April 22, 2016. http://islandbreath.blogspot.com.au/. Accessed April 27, 2016.
2 Air Quality Index (AQI) basics. AirNow. January 28, 2016. https://www.airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=aqibasics.aqi#mod. Accessed April 27, 2016.
3 National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/. Accessed April 27, 2016.
4 Lesson 1: Why is clean air so important? 20/20 In-Class Lectures. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Clean Air Partnership. (n.d.) http://www.cleanairpartnership.org/files/Lesson%201%20-%20In-Class%20Lesson%20Plans%20with%20Teacher%20Instructions.pdf. Accessed April 27, 2016.