Millions of people live in regions and indoor situations where the air quality can cause serious health problems. Air quality can affect our daily lives, and like the weather, it can change every day. Ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide and other pollutants can cause negative effects on air quality, including threats to human health, despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations through the Clean Air Act. Keep reading to learn how to navigate air quality and protect yourself and others from exposure to air pollutants.
The EPA developed the Air Quality Index, which reports the air quality’s value on a scale of 0 to 500. The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern. The index has six categories and colors that indicate a different level of health concern.
When the AQI is low, below 50, it means the air pollution shows little to no risk to people, and outdoor activities are encouraged. From 101 to 200, the air quality and pollution can have major impacts on those living with serious health and respiratory issues like asthma. The highest end of the spectrum indicates emergency health conditions, during which all people are at serious risk from the air and should remain indoors.
Just like checking the day’s weather conditions and temperature on the internet or on your smartphone, you can find out the Air Quality Index on your weather app and at www.airnow.gov, along with information about whether or not outdoor activities are encouraged.
There are many factors that contribute to poorer air quality. While the ozone layer is essential to protect life from the sun, there is such a thing as “bad ozone,” which is ground-level ozone. According to the EPA, this layer of ozone results from chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds, typically caused by pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, refineries, chemical plants and other sources that chemically react in the presence of sunlight. Ground-level ozone often reaches unhealthy levels in urban environments during hot weather. Wind can also transfer this type of ozone to rural areas, causing the AQI to increase.
Other major pollutants that contribute to a rising AQI are particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Particulate matter, also known as particle pollution, is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air like dust, dirt, soot or smoke. Sources that emit PM include construction sites, smokestacks and fire, but the major contributors are power plants, industrial facilities and automobiles.
When the AQI is at dangerous levels and these pollutants are inhaled in great quantities, they can enter a person’s lungs and bloodstream and cause health issues such as heart and lung disease, poor heart conditions and decreased lung function. To minimize exposure to and inhalation of pollutants, keep an eye on the daily AQI and stay indoors as much as possible when levels are deemed unsafe.
While the EPA recommends staying indoors when the AQI is high, it’s important to consider the factors that can also affect your indoor air quality. Indoor pollution can also have serious side effects on our health. Sources include fuel-burning combustion appliances, tobacco products, toxic household cleaning products, central heating and cooling systems, and excess moisture. Some building materials may even contain asbestos or lead.
The EPA recommends source control as the most effective way to improve indoor air quality. Determine what negatively impacts the air quality, and then eliminate those individual sources of pollution or reduce their emissions.
Though it can be costly to your energy bill, ventilation also helps remove or dilute indoor airborne pollutants. Opening a window or door and using a window fan or air conditioner unit can help bring in outside air. Bathroom or kitchen fans that exhaust outdoors can also remove contaminants directly from the room. Finally, regularly replace the air filter in your central air system and consider purchasing an air purifier, which can remove particles in a single room.
As we approach the hot, summer months, be mindful of the daily air quality index. When levels are high, minimize your time outside and consider carpooling to limit emissions from cars.
The EPA has several regulations in place to ensure facilities limit pollutant emissions. Tioga works with industrial and construction clients to assemble permit applications and review preparedness documents to help them remain in compliance with regulations. Our team also assesses buildings with potential presence of asbestos, lead and other hazardous building materials so that indoor air quality is at a safe and healthy level. If you need guidance on compliance regulations and environmental impact, please contact us today.