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Understanding the Air Quality IndexThe EPA reports air quality through a measurement it devised called the “air quality index,” or AQI. The AQI is calculated for five of the six criteria air pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. The AQI is a helpful tool for you to understand how polluted the air you are breathing is, as well as any health concerns to watch out for. According to the EPA, “ground-level ozone and airborne particles are the two pollutants that pose the greatest threat to human health in this country.”
|0 to 50||Good||Green||Air quality is considered satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risk.|
|51 to 100||Moderate||Yellow||Air quality is acceptable; however, for some pollutants there may be a moderate health concern for a very small number of people who are unusually sensitive to air pollution.|
|101 to 150||Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups||Orange||Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is not likely to be affected.|
|151 to 200||Unhealthy||Red||Everyone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.|
|201 to 300||Very Unhealthy||Purple||Health alert: everyone may experience more serious health effects.|
|301 to 500||Hazardous||Maroon||Health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected.|
Criteria Air Pollutants
Particle PollutionParticle pollution, also known as particulate matter (or just “PM”) is made up of tiny solid particles and liquid droplets in the air. PM comes in many different shapes and sizes and can include everything from acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, and metals, to microscopic bits of soil, pollen, and dust. These particles are breathed into your lungs and can even get into your bloodstream. The key thing to remember about particle pollution is: there is no safe level of exposure to particle pollution.
Ozone PollutionGround-level ozone is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight. Ozone is the most common air pollutant in the United States. Breathing ozone pollution can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion.
Sulfur oxides (SOx) refers to a group of compounds that contain sulfur and oxygen. SOx can be harmful to humans and the environment, but sulfur dioxide, or SO2, is the pollutant of most concern. Emissions come primarily from power plants that burn fossil fuels to generate electricity, along with industrial processes and some “dirty” forms of transportation. Sulfur dioxide can cause respiratory problems; people with asthma are particularly sensitive to breathing SO2.