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Air Quality

​​Air quality standards tell us if the current level of pollution​ in the air is likely to be harmful to our health. 

Air pollution refers to any biological, physical, or chemical particle in the air that should not be there. Pollutants come from many human activities such as factories, power plants, dry cleaners, cars, trains, planes, and buses. They can also come from environmental sources like wildfires, volcanic eruptions, and windblown dust. 

When air pollution is bad, it c​​an irritate your eyes, nose, and throat. It can also cause shortness of breath, and aggravate asthma and other respiratory conditions. Poor air quality also affects your heart and cardiovascular system, increasing the chances of heart attack and stroke.

Why is this important?

On average, adults breathe over 3,000 gallons of air each day. There is no way to avoid exposure to the pollutants in the air we breathe. Air pollution harms other living things in the ecosystem. Air pollution also impacts where we live and work. 

What is known?​

Air pollution affects health in a number of ways. Air pollution can cause coughing and shortness of breath and make conditions such as asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis worse. Air pollution has also been linked to increases in heart attacks, strokes, and low birth weight in infants. 

Two air pollutants of particular concern are ozone and PM2.5.

Ozone: Ground-level ozone is created by reactions among environmental pollutants, light, and heat. Ozone is the main component of smog. It is dangerous to human health and the environment. Warm weather and sunshine can increase the amount of ground level ozone. This means ozone levels are usually higher in the summer and in the mid-afternoon.

PM2.5: "PM" stands for "particulate matter".  Particulate matter is a mixture of very small particles and liquid droplets. PM has many different components like acids, organic chemicals, metals, and soil. PM is measured in micrometers, so PM2.5 refers to particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers wide. The important thing with PM is its small size. The smaller the particle, the more easily it can pass through the nose and throat and enter the lungs. Once inhaled, PM can affect the heart and lungs, causing serious health problems.

Other criteria pollutants: Ozone, PM2.5, and four other pollutants are known as the six "criteria pollutants" by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Lead
  • Nitrogen Dioxide
  • Sulfur Dioxide

Who is at risk?​

Air pollution affects everyone, but certain people are more at risk than others to its effects. Those more at risk include people with lung or heart issues, young children, and older adults.

Reduce your risk:

Check your local Air Quality Index and refer to activity guidelines for when air quality reaches unhealthy levels. ​​Actions you might take include limiting outdoor time and wearing a mask. You may need to take specific actions for different pollutants, such as wildfire smoke. 

Improve your air quality:

Our individual choices affect air quality. Reducing air pollution and improving air quality is everybody's responsibility:

  • Conserve energy by turning off lights and appliances when you're not using them
  • Plan your trips with your car
  • Use public transportation, ride a bike, or walk
  • Recycle paper, plastic, glass bottles, cardboard, and aluminum cans
  • Shop with a canvas bag and avoid using paper and plastic bags