The below article talks about the air quality index (AQI), how to understand them, how it impacts your daily life, along with some frequently asked questions about air quality and using the air quality index.
Is 150 AQI Good?
No, an AQI of 150 is considered moderately polluted and can cause breathing difficulties in people with respiratory illnesses and extended discomfort to vulnerable populations like chronically diagnosed patients, senior citizens, kids, etc. It is considered an emergency circumstance and is a potential hazard to citizens in the area. It can have devastating impacts on health and these can be short-term or long-term depending on the person’s age, sex, history of health, previously diagnosed illnesses, etc. along with many other factors.
Air Quality Index (AQI)
An AQI is used by global and national state actors to communicate to the public about the levels of air quality in the country and the world. As AQI levels increase, health risks increase and different countries have different interpretations of the same index, therefore the levels of measures taken across countries will differ. Countries can have their own indices, scales, and national air quality standards. Therefore, governmental monitoring stations may show different data in comparison to other global sources.
Analysis of AQI is done through a collection of a large amount of data collected over large periods of time with the help of various devices, sensors, and monitors that measure the levels of different pollutants and toxic airborne particular matter. These values are studied to identify air pollution patterns and create projections that help citizens worldwide to make decisions about their everyday activities.
Various studies have been conducted globally to study the correlation between different levels of air pollution and the health impacts it creates, and they have proven time and time again that the AQI is an important measure and needs to be strictly adhered to in order to reduce the long-term health effects on individuals.
The objectives and goals of having an AQI are as follows:
- It aims to compare air quality conditions across different locations around the world.
- It helps to identify inefficient standards and frameworks; and aims to put pressure on global actors to take necessary actions to fix these gaps.
- It helps to identify patterns of change and distribution of air quality and toxic air pollutants
- It informs global citizens on air quality conditions and what protective measures need to be taken to safeguard themselves and their families.
There is a large number of air pollutants, and varying concentrations of these pollutants cause different effects across various populations. The US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) identifies 5 major pollutants (US EPA, n.d.). They are as follows:
- Ground-level ozone
- Particulate matter such as PM2.5 and PM10
- Carbon monoxide (CO)
- Sulfur dioxide (SO2)
- Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
Each of these pollutants has a globally set standard so that countries may know at what levels these pollutants will get toxic, and thus be able to take public health measures.
What are you breathing in?
Mold thrives and grows in damp environments leading to infestations that could have dire effects on health. 80% of Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is contributed to mold infestations, the most common form being the black mold (RTK, n.d.).
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs):
Various old buildings have been found to use unsafe paint and asbestos, while this is being rectified in the larger common areas; they are usually ignored in the lesser-visited spaces like a basement. Therefore, particles like lead dust, radon, other carcinogens, etc. would be present along with other particles originating from old upholstery, adhesives, paints, carpeting, varnishes, old furniture, pesticides, cleaning products, gym machines, gardening equipment, etc.
Fiberglass insulation is commonly used and is one of the major contributors to poor indoor air quality. Since fiberglass is present all across ceilings and walls, there is very little effort made to reduce the impact caused by breathing in small glass particles. It is also used in the manufacture of piping, sports equipment, fire protection equipment, drum sets, etc. So, breathing in fiberglass doesn’t necessarily originate from insulation, it could be a breakdown of particles from items stored in a basement.
The dust, mites, pollen, vermin and its droppings, mold spores, bacteria build-ups, mildew particles, etc. are some particles that can trigger allergic reactions. If there is equipment like washing machines and dryers, chances are lint is being inhaled as well. Not cleaning equipment could trigger infestations that spread rapidly across stored items in a basement, leading to increased breakdowns of toxic particles.
Industrial and Vehicular Emissions:
Studies have repeatedly found out that vehicular exhaust fumes have caused varying degrees of respiratory difficulties amongst kids and adults. A study conducted in Taiwan amongst 32,134 schoolchildren found that their increased exposure to air pollutants during traffic hours has increased their risk of developing allergic rhinitis (UoB, 2006). The study observed that these children were exposed to multiple pollutants in the city’s center including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone, etc.
The study showed that the official diagnosis of allergic rhinitis increased by 10% for every 10 ppb (parts per billion) increase in levels of nitrogen oxides (UoB, 2006). The chances of respiratory difficulties amongst children increased if they had a familial history of the same issues.
Fumes from paints, pesticides, cleaning products, bleach, varnishes, gas, solvents, etc. emanate strong chemical fumes. These fumes could cause inflammation to the outer skin as well as to lung tissue and can contribute to poisoning or cancer due to long-term exposure. A radioactive chemical that is often present in basements is radon. Radon has been found to be the 2nd largest contributor to lung cancer in the US, with an average of 21,000 deaths every year (EPA, n.d.). Since radon is odorless and colorless, poisoning from radon is usually identified quite late.
Allergic reactions to pets can be due to the body’s response to the protein that is found in an animals’ skin cells, saliva, feces, urine, etc. Most usually, the allergic reaction is triggered by inhalation of the pet’s dead skin (dander) and has been mostly associated with exposure to cats and dogs (Mayo Clinic, n.d.). Pet allergies can appear as symptoms of asthma, wheezing, breathlessness, etc. The most common way to avoid pet allergies would be to avoid pets, however, in situations that are not possible, various other solutions such as the below ones can be implemented.
Protecting yourself from poor indoor air quality
There are various factors that reduce indoor air quality. Below are a few sources and how to rectify them:
- Using air fresheners, pesticides, toxic cleaning solutions, toxic fumes from varnishes/ paints/ lacquers, etc. can create emissions of volatile organic compounds.
- If using these items causes irritation, it is best to completely avoid them or use a mask or a damp cloth to cover your nose and mouth to prevent the entry of these pollutants into your respiratory system.
- The best way to avoid long-term exposure to these items is to store them in well-ventilated spaces like an outdoor shed or a garage, or not store or use them.
- There are various biodegradable and organic cleaning solutions that are much more eco-friendly and safer to use.
- Increased exposure to pet dander, bacteria, mold spores, lint, dust mites, smoke, etc. can originate from various sources indoors including poorly maintained HVAC systems, damp and moist conditions, a large number of plants that trap dust, faulty chimneys or vents, poorly maintained sink traps, etc.
- The best ways to avoid these pollutants are to install an air purifier to clean and freshen the air.
- Use a dehumidifier to remove the excess moisture from the atmosphere, and thus prevent the growth of mold and bacteria
- Avoid smoking indoors or burning waste, wood, coal, etc.
- Vacuum indoors atleast twice a week
- Replace carpeting with tiles or prefer a bare floor
- Clean your curtains and upholstery periodically
Protecting yourself from poor outdoor air quality
- Avoid going outdoors when there are high levels of pollutants reported. The air quality levels and air pollution forecasts can be checked across various platforms depending on the country you’re in.
- Use masks such as an N95 mask, that offer quality protection from outdoor pollutants as well as disease-causing viruses or bacteria.
- Avoid spending a long-time outdoor for exercise or work, during the peak traffic hours or when the pollution forecasts are shown to be high and dangerous.
- Avoid burning waste or any other fuel source, as inhaling particles during this could cause long-term health effects along with an allergy attack.
- Use energy-efficient fuel sources and avoid burning wood, coal, etc.
- Encourage yourself and citizens around you to choose eco-friendly options of traveling or consumption patterns of fuels.
- Avoid smoking indoors and outdoors, and take measures to avoid second-hand smoking.
- Avoid sitting inside a closed vehicle for long periods of time to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Is 150 AQI good or bad?
How do I know what levels are good or bad?
In general, air quality is measured on a numbered scale from 0 to 500, and they are divided into different color-coded categories based on the severity of the levels of air quality. Below are the commonly followed categories (BS, n.d.):
- 0 – 50 (Good / Minimal Impact) – The air quality is considered to be within healthy limits and poses little to no risk to the citizens in the area.
- 51 – 100 (Satisfactory / Moderate Impact) – Air quality is acceptable, but can pose a risk. The air quality can cause minor difficulties in breathing to vulnerable populations amongst the citizens in the area.
- 101 – 200 (Moderately Polluted/ Unhealthy) – Air quality is not under acceptable levels and can cause difficulties in citizens in the area, especially amongst individuals with respiratory illnesses or other diseases.
- 201 – 300 (Poor/ Very Unhealthy) – Air quality levels are high and can cause distress in citizens with prolonged exposure to these levels. It is a health risk to vulnerable populations and they need to be on alert.
- 301 – 400 (Very Poor/ Hazardous) – Poor air quality levels and pronounced effects on vulnerable populations, and respiratory illnesses to other citizens on prolonged exposure.
- 401 – 500 (Severe) – Toxic levels of air pollution and need to be considered as a health warning for all with a special focus on vulnerable populations. Everyone will be affected and can have long-term impacts even with short-term exposure.
Follow the above table and compare your country’s current air quality levels to the global standards, and take adequate measures to protect yourself and your family from the side-effects of poor air quality.
Is it possible to monitor indoor air quality?
Yes, indoor air quality can be measured in several ways:
- By using devices such as an air purifier, dehumidifier, humidifier, etc. that can provide real-time statistics of the indoor air quality
- By investing in indoor air quality monitors
- By using private software such as BreezoMeter to measure air quality indoors and outdoors
- By calling in experts from environmental companies who will measure it for you and suggest strategies to improve air quality in your efficient, homes, garages, basements, etc.
Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.
AirNow. (n.d.). Air Quality Index (AQI) Basics. Viewed on 11-29-2021. https://www.airnow.gov/aqi/aqi-basics/
Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). (n.d.). Criteria Air Pollutants. Environments and Contaminants. Viewed on 11-29-2021. https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2015-10/documents/ace3_criteria_air_pollutants.pdf
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (n.d.). Health Risk of Radon. United States EPA. Viewed on 11-29-2021. https://www.epa.gov/radon/health-risk-radon
Hadley S. (2020, December 21). Air Pollution is causing Permanent Damage to eye health. Viewed on 11-29-2021. Earth.org. https://earth.org/air-pollution-causing-damage-to-eye-health/
Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Pet allergy. Overview. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pet-allergy/symptoms-causes/syc-20352192
RTK Environmental Group (RTK). (n.d.). Beware of Basement Air. Viewed on 11-30-2021. https://rtkenvironmental.com/healthy-home/beware-of-basement-air/
University of Birmingham (UoB). (2006, February 22). Traffic Fumes Linked to Childhood Allergies. Viewed on 11-29-2021. https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/latest/2006/02/22feb-allergies.aspx