The NOAA Air Quality map is updated every day with the air quality conditions around the US. The map gives a level of pollution and smog in each city and assigns areas a ranking number based on how the air quality is that day.
But why is air quality important, and how can it affect your health?
You may remember a few years ago, Beijing had such bad air quality that citizens were wearing purification masks when they stepped outside, and stores could not keep enough in stock. While the US doesn’t have air quality issues like China did, there is still a concern about pollution and smog in the environment today.
Air pollutionis such a vague term, but when scientists use it, they are usually talking about the five major pollutants that you find in the air. These five are particle pollution, sulfur dioxide, ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.
Air pollutants come from the places that you might expect, like burning oil, gas, coal and kerosene. Billions of people around the world heat their homes and cook with substances that release these pollutants into the air.
Some people ask, why is air quality an important issue to us, only thinking about the visual of seeing hazy smog behind a skyscraper. But there are a lot of health-related air quality issues, both short and long term, that arise when we ignore the warning signs.
Air pollution is directly linked to higher rates of stroke, cancer, heart disease and lung diseases like asthma. The American Lung Association estimates that over 125 million people in the US alone are at an elevated risk of premature death directly caused by air pollution.
These are the long-term issues, however. Short-term poor air quality can cause eye irritation, dizziness, sneezing, coughing, and headaches, ranging from a simple annoyance to a serious problem in day to day life.
You can’t avoid going outside forever, and for most people moving outside of a heavily populated area is not a reasonable option. So how do you stay safe from air pollution in your daily life?
Safeguarding your house is a great first step! Even if you are inhaling pollution outside, ensuring you have clean and fresh air to breathe when at home is important. Air purifiers can be found at many stores and can remove pollution and particles from the air.
Increasing the ventilation in a home can also help circulate air, as well as running exhaust fans in the bathroom and kitchen when appropriate. Experts also recommend not smoking inside the home (Or at all!).
From a larger standpoint, avoid doing things that cause more pollution. Carpool or walk when appropriate or available, and take public transportation. If you are looking to purchase a new vehicle consider something with low emissions or even electric.
Pay attention to the NOAA air quality map and see what your area is forecasted for. If it is going to be a bad day or week for air quality, perhaps consider alternative routes or plans, so you don’t contribute further to the problem.