Safety Tip of the Week: Understanding air quality and your health

This week, Wendy Couture, the district’s safety and risk reduction manager, shares information about air quality, especially in light of the recent fires in Washington and related air quality concerns.

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Some days, the air is clear and smells fresh and clean. Clean air is air that has no harmful levels of pollutants (such as dirt and chemicals). However, on a hot day with no wind, the air can feel heavy and may have a bad smell. Sometimes, the air can even make your chest feel tight or make you cough. When too much dirt or too many pollutants get into the air, the air is dirty or smoky. Recently there have been many fires contributing to air quality concerns here and across the state.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) is a number used by government agencies to communicate how clean or polluted the air is and what associated health effects might be a concern. To make it easier to understand, the AQI is divided into six categories, each noted with a different color.

You can protect your health in three ways when the air is polluted:

  1. Check the AQI at AIRNow. The AQI uses color-coded maps and health messages to tell you how clean or polluted the air is. The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern. For example, green means the air is clean. Red means the air is unhealthy. You may hear about the AQI on TV or radio during weather forecasts, or you might see it on the weather page in the local newspaper. Download the AirNow App to get the AQI on your smartphone.
  2. If you’re outside when you know the air is polluted, you can protect your health by taking it easy. It’s important to exercise and be active to maintain good health. But when the air is polluted, you can reduce the time you spend exercising, walk instead of run, take frequent breaks, or go outside at another time or on another day when the air is cleaner.
  3. If you notice any symptoms when you’re outside like coughing, pain when you take a deep breath, chest tightness or wheezing, stop your activity and tell an adult. This is especially important if you have asthma.