How safe is the air? Here’s how to check

How can you check the air quality in your area and what do the numbers mean?

The Environmental Protection Agency monitors the air across the country and compiles an air quality index or AQI.

Here’s what you need to know about the index and how to monitor your area, especially in US regions facing smoke from the Canadian wildfires.

WHAT DOES THE AIR QUALITY INDEX MEASURE?

The index rates how clean or polluted the air is each day. The EPA uses this measure to control five types of air pollutants.

The main concern from wildfire smoke is fine particulate matter pollution, or PM2.5. These particles are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs. They can cause short-term problems like coughing and itchy eyes, and in the long run, They can affect the lungs and heart.

WHAT DO THE NUMBERS AND COLORS MEAN?

The index goes from zero to 500. The higher the number, the worse the air quality. That range is divided into six color-coded categories.

Green or yellow, in the range of zero to 100, the air is quite clear. Once it reaches orange, air quality could be a concern for sensitive groups such as children, the elderly, or people with health problems.

In the red and purple zones, the air quality is considered unhealthy for everyone. AND once you get to garnet, to 301 or higher, the contamination levels are dangerous.

At these high levels, take precautions to avoid breathing dangerous air. That may mean cutting back on your outdoor activities, using air purifiers indoors, and wearing a well-fitting mask like an N95 when outside.

“If you have to push yourself, push yourself less. Hydrate more”, said Dr. Leonardo Trasande, who studies environmental health at New York University.

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WHAT IS THE AIR LIKE IN MY AREA?

Check out AirNow.gov , which is updated hourly. The site shows a real-time map of air quality across the country and also includes a forecast for the next day.

The map draws measurements from a network of air monitoring stations across the country. States and cities may also offer more local guidance.

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