How To Assess Outdoor Air Quality — and Why You Should

Before heading outside for a workout or enjoying the fresh air, you may take several steps to prepare for the outing. From checking the weather to putting on sunscreen to donning appropriate attire, there are several measures you may go through to ensure your comfort and safety while away. Yet, like so many others, you may overlook one crucial factor: air quality.

Most people automatically assume they enter a world of “fresh air" when they step outside. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Several regions throughout the U.S. are affected by high pollution levels, which drastically reduce air quality. Air quality can still be poor in places not traditionally affected by pollution when certain environmental factors are present. Regardless of where you live, it’s important to know the air quality level in your region that day, as polluted air can adversely affect your health.

How Outdoor Air Quality Affects Your Health

Outdoor air — which is the air that flows from the ground level to miles above the earth’s surface — is a valuable commodity that provides life-sustaining gases and shields the earth from harmful radiation. However, when pollutants contaminate the air, they interfere with those essential gases and hinder its ability to protect the planet and its occupants. As a result, instead of breathing in healthy gases, humans and animals in polluted areas breathe in pollutants. These pollutants can compromise not just environmental health but also human health.

The effects of polluted air on human and environmental health are well documented. Below are just a few examples of how air pollution affects life on earth:

  • It has been linked to several human health effects, including asthma attacks, heart attacks, bronchitis, restricted activity days, respiratory symptoms, missed work and school days, and premature mortality.
  • It damages essential crops and reduces visibility.
  • It has been linked to increased incidences of acid rain.
  • It weakens the planet’s protective ozone layer, contributing to climate change.

Though only the first point demonstrates a direct effect on human health, the remaining points all indirectly affect you, your loved ones and your community.

How To Check Outdoor Air Quality

Checking outdoor air quality is as simple as checking indoor air quality. However, whereas with your indoor air quality, you can simply refer to your thermostat, you would refer to the air quality index with outdoor air quality. You can do this via an app, such as the FiltreteÔ Smart App, or a website, such as IQAir.

Regardless of which source you use, the index should give you a number between 0 and 500. This number refers to the level of air pollution present that day. A score of “0” means there is no pollution, while a score of “500” means the air poses an immediate danger to life. If air pollution is present, the index should identify what the pollutant is and how much of it is present.

Finally, the index should provide a five-color grading scale, with green meaning “clean” and red or maroon meaning “heavily polluted.” Each color code comes with specific advice for being outdoors.

Checking air quality levels before heading outside is simple yet can have a profound impact on your health. Prioritize your health and well-being, and take 30 seconds out of your day to check the air quality in your area before heading outdoors.