What to Do When Air Quality Is Hazardous?

The quality of the air we breathe can have a direct impact on our health. This guide will answer common questions you might have about air quality, like what is an air quality index, what makes the air quality bad, and what to do when air quality is hazardous.

Where to Learn About the Air Quality in My Location?

It’s important to be aware of the air quality index in your area in order to be able to take appropriate action if the air quality levels drop too low. To find out about the current AQI in your location or state, you can use a range of online resources.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website has various tools that users can use to learn about AQI, and even Google Maps has a filter you can activate to see the air quality index in any given area around the United States.

What to Do When Air Quality Is Hazardous?

An air pollution alert occurs when the levels of pollution in the air have reached very high levels and are expected to remain that way for an expected period (potentially up to several days). If this happens, local authorities may introduce certain measures to try to bring down the levels of pollution in the air, like banning driving in certain areas, for instance.

You should check for advice and instructions from your local authorities, as well as follow these key tips:

  • Stay indoors as much as you can to limit your exposure to the pollutants in the air outside.
  • If you must go outside, try to limit the amount of time you spend there, and consider wearing an N95, KN95, or FFP2rated mask.
  • Try to avoid any extra pollution indoors by not smoking tobacco products or burning anything, like wood stoves or candles.
  • Clean the home thoroughly, using mops and dusters to get rid of dirt and dust on surfaces.
  • Try to limit any travel by car or other motorized vehicles.
  • Consider using an air cleaner or air purifier at home to filter pollutants from the air you breathe.

Here is a quick helpful guide by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

How to Treat Bad Air Quality Symptoms?

When it comes to how air quality affects our health, there’s a risk that some people may experience symptoms, like coughing, shortness of breath, irritation of the eyes and throat, and so on.

  • There are certain home remedies you can try to help with coughing and throat irritation, like inhaling some steam, especially with essential oils like peppermint or eucalyptus oil mixed in.
  • If you’re taking medications for any existing conditions, you should continue to do so.
  • You should also try to rest as much as possible and contact your doctor if your symptoms are severe or if you have an existing condition like asthma.

Who Is in an Immediate Risk Group?

When it comes to what unhealthy air quality means for you, it will depend on your current health state. People who are generally healthy are not at immediate risk from polluted air, but there are certain “immediate risk groups” of people who need to be especially careful when the pollutant levels start to rise. These groups include:

  • Infants and very young children
  • Elderly people over 65
  • People with asthma, bronchitis, and other lung or respiratory problems
  • People who work outdoors
  • People with heart diseases
  • People who smoke

What Are Air Quality Alerts?

So, what is an air quality alert? An air quality alert is a service that was established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to let people know when the levels of air pollution are reaching high or dangerous levels. Air quality alerts are issued to the general public, often in the form of text messages or emails, to inform people about possible risks in the air, such as high levels of ozone or other pollutants.

Air quality alerts cover most areas around the US, especially those that are at risk of elevated pollution levels. Typically, these alerts are issued in the afternoon, letting you know about high levels of ozone or fine particle pollution that are expected for the next day. It’s therefore very important for the general public to pay close attention to any alerts they receive, especially those who are classed as ‘at risk’.

What Can Cause Hazardous Air Quality?

The main cause of poor air quality is a high level of certain pollutants, like carbon monoxide, fine particles, and ozone in the air. These kinds of pollutants can be produced by both natural and man-made sources. Vehicles emit certain pollutants, for example, along with factories and machines.

The burning of fossil fuels and waste can contribute to high AQI ratings, as well as general industrial emissions. Wildfires are an example of a natural source of air pollution that can affect air quality. Don’t forget to take a look at our Wildfire Emergency Action Guide to be prepared for such an emergency.

Air Quality FAQ

What Is PM 2.5 and Why Is It So Harmful?

When we talk about what is PM 2.5 air quality, this term refers to fine particulate matter. PM 2.5, or particular matter 2.5, is made up of tiny particles that are specifically 2.5 microns or less in width. Particles this size are so small that they’re able to pass into the body’s respiratory system and damage the lungs, which is what makes them so dangerous.

What Level of PM 2.5 Is Unhealthy?

In general, studies suggest that any levels of PM 2.5 in excess of 35 μg/m3 are dangerous. At this level, the air may cause problems for those who suffer from respiratory conditions, like asthma, and may also trigger other breathing difficulties.

What Is the Air Quality Index?

An air quality index, or AQI, is a measurement of how polluted the air is or is expected to be. AQIs are used by governments around the world to let people know about air quality and safety. The AQI in the US has a score from 0 to 500. Anything from 0 to 50 is classed as good. [Source]

How Is Air Quality Measured?

Air quality is measured by using sensors to detect various levels of pollutants in the air. Some of the common pollutants that are measured include ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, PM 2.5, and carbon monoxide. A mathematical formula is then used to work out the current air quality index score from 0 to 500.

What Is the Clean Air Act?

The Clean Air Act, or CAA, is a federal law designed to reduce air pollution and improve air quality in the US. This law was first brought into existence in 1963 and has since been amended several times. It was one of the earliest environmental laws in the US.

What Are the Six Levels of Air Quality?

Air quality in the United States has six distinct, color-coded levels:

  • Green – This signifies good air quality, with an AQI of 0 to 50
  • Yellow – Moderate air quality, with a rating of 51 to 100
  • Orange – Unhealthy for sensitive people, rated 101 to 150
  • Red – Unhealthy for all, 151 to 200
  • Purple – Very unhealthy, 201 to 300
  • Maroon – Hazardous to life, 301+
Six Levels Of Air Quality - California Air Resources Board
By California Air Resources Board

What Is a Good Air Quality Index?

In terms of what is healthy air quality, anything with an AQI rating of 0 to 50 is classified as good. This means that there are low levels of pollutants in the air and it should be safe for all to breathe, even those with existing respiratory conditions or other health problems.

What Is a Bad Air Quality Index?

In terms of what is bad air quality, anything from 101 upwards is classified as unhealthy. From 101 to 150, the air may be dangerous for those with health problems, like asthma. Above 151, it becomes unhealthy and even dangerous for all.

What Affects Air Quality?

The main factors that affect air quality are general pollution levels and the amounts of certain pollutants in the air. High amounts of pollutants like ozone and carbon monoxide, for example, make the air quality worse and increase the air quality index.

Can Air Quality Make You Sick?

In terms of what bad air quality causes, there is a risk of bad air quality in the orange, red, purple, or maroon levels causing health problems. If someone breathes in high levels of pollutants, this can affect their respiratory system, causing coughing, breathing difficulties, and inflammation, while also leading to the early onset of diseases like cancer.

States With the Worst Air Quality in the US?

In terms of what state has the worst air quality, Utah currently ranks the lowest with an average air quality index of around 51. The next four states in terms of worst air quality are Georgia, Ohio, West Virginia, and Indiana.

States With the Best Air Quality in the US?

When it comes to what state has the best air quality, Hawaii comes out on top with a significantly lower AQI compared to most other US states. In terms of what states have the best air quality outside Hawaii, the next best four are Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Maine.

Air Quality Resouces

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