Monday, October 22, 2007

What Is Your Community's Air Quality Index?

As wildfires continue their march through seven Southern California counties, outdoor air quality has taken a turn for the worst. Air quality in these areas is expected to gradually deteriorate, and citizens are encouraged to check updates on their community’s Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI, a value calculated by the EPA, informs the public on how clean or polluted the outdoor air is and determines what associated health effects may be experienced within a few hours or days after breathing polluted air. In order to calculate air quality, the EPA determines the Air Quality Index (AQI) on a daily basis for five major air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act:

1. Ground-level ozone
2. Particle pollution, or particulate matter
3. Carbon monoxide
4. Sulfur dioxide
5. Nitrogen dioxide

For each of these pollutants, the EPA has established national air quality standards to protect public health. The purpose of the AQI is to help you understand what local air quality means to your health. The AQI is divided into six categories:

"Good": The AQI value for your community is between 0 and 50. The air quality is considered satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risks.

"Moderate": The AQI value for your community is between 51 and 100. Although air quality is acceptable, for a small percentage of people, some pollutants such as ozone may present a moderate health concern.

"Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups": The AQI value for your community is between 101 and 150, and members of sensitive groups may experience health effects, but the general public is not likely to be affected when the AQI is in this range.

"Unhealthy": The AQI value for your community is between 151 and 200, and everyone may begin to experience health effects. Members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.

"Very Unhealthy": The AQI value for your community is between 201 and 300. This can trigger a health alert, meaning everyone may experience more serious side effects.

"Hazardous": The AQI value for your community is over 300, and this will trigger health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected.

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