Air Quality Index Alert

As we go into the holiday weekend, we want everyone in East Central Indiana and beyond to remain healthy and happy and focused on making health possible. With the current projected air quality being in the unhealthy range, we worry about our Hancock Health patients and their loved ones and want to help give you the tools to keep you feeling your best.

When Air Quality Index (AQI) values are above 150, air quality is considered unhealthy for the entire population. In this range, people with heart or lung disease, older adults, children, and people with diabetes are advised to reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.

Patients who are more likely to be affected by poor air quality:

  • People with heart or lung diseases
  • People with diabetes
  • Older adults
  • Children (less than 18 years old)

Here are some commonly asked questions and helpful tips from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and ways to protect yourself and your loved ones when the AQI* is high.

How do I know if my breathing is being affected?

You might notice coughing, wheezing, fatigue, sore throat, and stinging eyes. Keep a close eye if breathing gets worse or you start to have chest pain.

Is there anything I can do preventatively?

Consider closing your windows, doors, and use air filters to prevent the smoky air from entering the house. Reduce your exposure to the outside air by spending a little less time being active outdoors when air quality is poor.

Do masks work?

Only N95 and N100 masks work to block out the air if they are properly fitted for a person.

How does the AQI work?

Think of the AQI as a yardstick that runs from 0 to 500. The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern. For example, an AQI value of 50 or below represents good air quality, while an AQI value over 300 represents hazardous air quality.

For each pollutant, an AQI value of 100 generally corresponds to an ambient air concentration that equals the level of the short-term national ambient air quality standard for protection of public health. AQI values at or below 100 are generally thought of as satisfactory. When AQI values are above 100, air quality is unhealthy: at first for certain sensitive groups of people, then for everyone as AQI values get higher.

What is the Air Quality Index (AQI)?

The AQI is a nationally uniform color-coded index for reporting and forecasting daily air quality. It is used to report on the most common ambient air pollutants that are regulated under the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone, particle pollution (PM10 and PM2.5), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and sulfur dioxide (SO2). The AQI tells the public how clean or polluted the air is and how to avoid health effects associated with poor air quality.

The AQI focuses on health effects that may be experienced within a few hours or days after breathing polluted air and uses a normalized scale from 0 to 500; the higher the AQI value, the greater the level of pollution and the greater the health concern. An AQI value of 100 generally corresponds to the level of the short-term for the pollutant. AQI values at and below 100 are generally considered to be satisfactory. When AQI values are above 100, air quality is considered to be unhealthy, at first for members of populations at greatest risk of a health effect, then for the entire population as AQI values get higher (greater than 150).

The AQI is divided into six categories that correspond to different levels of health concern. Each category also has a specific color. The color makes it easy for people to quickly determine whether air quality is reaching unhealthy levels in their communities. The breakpoints between these categories are selected based on a review of the health effects evidence. For particle pollution, the evidence largely consists of epidemiology studies that evaluate the morbidity and mortality effects of acute and chronic exposures to particle pollution.

For particle pollution, epidemiological studies show little evidence of a population threshold, or level below which particle pollution-associated effects are unlikely to occur. Even serious effects, such as mortality, can occur at low levels. Some individuals are much more sensitive to air pollution than others. Checking the AQI each day will help these people notice at what levels they begin to experience effects. The levels of health concern listed below are general guidelines to be utilized as a reference so that people can figure out their own sensitivity to air pollution.

  • Good: Air quality is good and poses little or no risk.
  • Moderate: Air quality is acceptable; however, there may be some health concern for a small number of unusually sensitive people. While EPA cannot identify these people, studies indicate that there are people who experience health effects when air quality is in the moderate range.
  • Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups: When air quality is in this range, people who are in sensitive groups, whether the increased risk is due to medical conditions, exposure conditions, or innate susceptibility, may experience health effects when engaged in outdoor activities. However, exposures to ambient concentrations in this range are not likely to result in effects in the general population. For particle pollution, the sensitive groups include people with heart and lung disease, older adults, children, people with diabetes, and people of lower SES.
  • Unhealthy: When air quality is in this range, everyone who is active outdoors may experience effects. Members of sensitive groups are likely to experience more serious effects.
  • Very Unhealthy: When air quality is in this range, it is expected that there will be widespread effects among the general population and more serious effects in members of sensitive groups.
  • Hazardous: Air quality in this range triggers health warnings of emergency conditions by media outlets. The entire population is more likely to be affected by serious health effects.

The AQI levels of health concern correlate with pollutant-specific health and cautionary statements that suggest simple measures people can take to reduce their exposure to air pollution (Figure 9). For example, when the AQI value for particle pollution is between 101 and 150, or Code Orange, air quality is considered “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” In this range, people with heart or lung disease, older adults, children, people with diabetes, and people of lower SES are advised to reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.

For most adults, activities that involve moderate physical exertion (i.e., minute ventilation rates ranging from 25 to 45 liters per minute) include climbing stairs, playing tennis or baseball, simple garden or construction work, and light jogging, cycling, or hiking. Activities that involve heavy physical exertion, with minute ventilation rates greater than 45 liters per minute, typically include playing basketball or soccer, chopping wood, heavy manual labor, and vigorous running, cycling, or hiking.  Because fitness levels vary widely among individuals, what is moderate exertion for one person may be heavy exertion for another. No matter how fit a person is, cutting back on the level and/or duration of exertion when particle levels are unhealthy will reduce the inhaled dose and help protect against the harmful effects of particle pollution.