The Importance of Air Quality Monitoring

  • March 8, 2021

Did you ever wonder what goes into the process of monitoring our air quality? You may have even noticed that your local every smiling TV weathercaster (do they all take botox injections) may talk briefly about the Air Quality Index and hint that today is not a good day to go to the beach or the park.

So exactly what is the Air Quality Index, and exactly what does it measure?

The National Air Pollution Control Administration originally founded the Air Quality Index, and after some refinements, the newly established Environmental Protection Agency adopted its use.

Other countries use the same general principles, but the Air Quality Index is the application that most of us are familiar with. 

The air quality index is somewhat similar to air temperature readings, only air quality from a ranking of zero to 500.

The air quality index is a little confusing because an index reading of 200 does not mean that the air quality is twice as bad as the air rated at 100. It is the most commonly used system, so it’s still important to consider.

As it exists right now, the air is measured in 6 different categories under the AQI.

If the AQI is rated good and air pollution generally considered causing little concern to the general public, it will have an AQI score of from 0 to 50. 

An AQI score of 50 to 100 is termed moderate. The air quality is considered acceptable, but the pollution levels may affect a small minority who are very sensitive to pollution.

An AQI of 100-150 is considered unhealthy for those in sensitive groups.

An AQI of 151-200, however, is considered unhealthy for those most anyone, and those sensitive to pollution are likely to experience mild to severe symptoms. 

From 201 to 300, the air is considered very unhealthy, and the vast majority may start to feel effects from pollution.

Finally, from 301 to 500, Health Alerts are called. Pollution is at an emergency level, and the entire population is affected. 

What are the various pollutants that are being measured in the air? 

The EPA and those scientists associated with measuring pollution are primarily concerned with five major pollutants:

  • Ground Level Ozone 
  • Note that the ozone is essential in the upper atmosphere to protect us from the sun’s radiation, but at ground-level, ozone can be harmful to both humans, animals, and plant life. 
  • particle pollution 
  • carbon monoxide 
  • sulfur dioxide 
  • nitrogen dioxide 

Virtually all of these pollutants can affect human health. 

According to the American Lung Association, nearly 40 percent of the population lives in areas that have a lot of air pollution, especially in California, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Utah, New York, Ohio, and Utah.

And despite the fact that generally, the air has been getting better, efforts are being exasperated by climate change. 

How is air pollution data being collected? 

The vast majority of air pollution data are recorded from satellites, operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In addition, some high-altitude U2s are used by Nasa to gather research on the ozone layer. 

A frequent change in particle acceleration each year is significantly noted with wildfires. Wildfires send millions of tons of particles in the air, and a major task of NOAA is to track the effects of wildfires.

Meanwhile, there is plenty of work to be done on ozone and particles.

The Los Angeles Times reported that in 2020 there were 157 Ozone alert days and 30 days where the general LA basin had particularly large numbers of particles in the air, and LA is not alone. 

Right now, there are 5 US cities with air pollution indexes of around 150, and several more at around 140. 

And air pollution not only affects people’s health but affects the overall economy as well. Stanford University, in a 2019 study, estimated that air pollution negatively affects our overall economy by 5 percent of our Gross National Product. Since the GDP for 2020 was around $20.8 trillion dollars, that means that we lose over $1 billion dollars to air pollution each year.

Meanwhile, as many as 90,000 and up to 360,000 people every year die of air pollution in the United States.

Of course, this is much better than China and India, where between 1.8 and 2.3 million people die each year from air pollution each year, but air pollution is still a significant factor in the United States in terms of deaths. 

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