Air Quality Smarts

A SMOKEY MORNING. Especially in these last months ahead, watching the air quality is easier than you think. The air quality index levels, easiest to find through airnow.gov, can help determine if going outside even on days where you may not see the particles, is actually safe. As the CDC states, “No matter where you go, you can always access the AQI.”

Article and Photo by Zoe Kowalczyk

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. In these closing months, our usual anticipation for fire and smoke leaves us watching the air quality to make sure it is safe to be outside and breathing the air. The seemingly never ending air pollution and the fires we’ve grown to expect each year have affected our air quality in ways that were never expected. The range of the qualities and what they mean can get over-looked but especially during the conditions we’re facing already, we need to be watching the air quality more closely than ever. 

Why do we need to watch the air quality? We have masks on already! As the air quality levels get higher, the more particle pollution we have in the air to worry about. Especially for sensitive groups, these particles, smaller than the diameter of a single hair from your head, can get to your lungs and make you sick faster. Even if you aren’t in a sensitive group, these particles that can be found in the smoke can affect not only your respiratory system, but also can cause irregular heartbeat and decreased lung function. Wearing a blue surgical mask only does so much; N-95 masks are your safest option to keep the particles out if you are going out while the air quality is at a higher level. 

The CDC states, “The good news is there’s a lot you can do to protect yourself and your family from the health effects caused by particle pollution.” Doing a quick Google search of what the air quality level is before going outside during fire seasons is necessary. Within the green level, there is an index level of 0-50, so there is no real risk and you can go outside without worrying about the health risks. The yellow level, with a value index of 51-100, doesn’t have a high risk of health effects unless you’re sensitive to air pollution, otherwise at this level you can still go outside without worry. 

The value of index of 101-150, the orange level, is when there starts to become concerns for people in sensitive groups. This is the level where there become limits to sports that you may be playing. Especially if you have a preexisting condition, watch for how you feel if you do go outside. A value of index level of 151-200 brings us to the red level and a value of index level of 201-300 brings us to the very unhealthy level purple. At these levels, people of sensitive groups are at higher risk than ever, but even the people not in these groups are also at risk. If the value of index level is at 301 or higher, at the maroon level, don’t even think about going outside. 

At the green, yellow and orange levels, you can continue to go outside and do everyday activities without concern, yet limit activities like running or intense exercising that can cause you to breath heavier, since you may end up breathing in more particles. At the red level and higher, please stay aware of how you feel if you do go outside, even if you think you’re not being affected if you’re not in a sensitive group, limiting your time outside and keeping your masks on is mandatory to staying safe during the fire season. 

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