When you’re in a polluted city, or downwind from a wildfire, the sun turns red. The atmosphere starts to obscure trees and buildings further away, but the gray air looks more yellow than foggy blue. To protect your health and save your lungs, you start obsessively checking stats and wondering, “What is the air quality index?”
Even if you’re not trapped in a polluted atmosphere, checking the air quality index (AQI) can help you plan daily schedules and outside activities. It helps you understand what’s going on outside, and what forecast to expect.
Read on to learn more about the air quality index and what it means to you.
What Is the Air Quality Index?
The air quality index is an indicator of what’s in the atmosphere outside. It measures five different forms of air pollution: ozone, particulate pollution, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. These values then get reported on a scale ranging from 0 to 300 and above.
You can look for air quality index reports in the local paper, at airnow.gov, or at iqair.com. It may also be reported by your local government.
How to Read the AQI
AQI values show how healthy or unhealthy the outside air can be. The AQI color-coded report will show what the value means to certain groups of people and who should stay inside in the following conditions:
- 0-50: no risk
- 51-100: air quality is acceptable but make be a risk for unusually sensitive people
- 101-150: members of sensitive groups may be affected
- 151-200 (unhealthy): some members of the general public may experience health effects
- 201-300 (very unhealthy): health alert: the risk of health effects is increased for everyone
When the air quality is very unhealthy, everyone should try to avoid polluted air. If you inhale small particulates, they can get trapped inside the lungs and cause damage. Inhaling too much carbon monoxide or ozone can cause chest pain, coughing, or throat inflammation.
How to Improve Air Quality
If the outside air is unhealthy, stay inside as much as possible. If the pollution is created by particulates (such as smoke from a wildfire), turn on your HVAC system and install a good air filter that will trap the particles. You may also want to purchase an air purifier or clean your air ducts.
Does Air Quality Affect Equipment?
Machines such as cars operate without any problem even if the AQI value is high. However, passengers inside a car are still exposed to particulates. If you’re driving when the air quality is bad, you can set your air to recirculate inside the cabin and run the fan so that the air filter removes particulates.
Air quality will not affect equipment that has a built-in air filter, such as a jun-air compressor.
Using the Air Quality Index
The air quality index can show you when the air around you is unhealthy, but it can also show you what to do. When you ask “what is the air quality index” and learn that it’s in the unhealthy range, try to stay inside and filter the air around you. If the AQI value is low, get outside and enjoy some fresh air!
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