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Interpreting the Air Quality Index!

Interpreting the Air quality Index.

If you have young children, are a senior citizen, have asthma or heart disease, you need to know this information.

I attended the Central, PA Clean Air Board meeting last night and had the privilege to have some of my questions answered!

What exactly is the Air Quality index?  

If you go to the Department of Environmental Protection’s website , www.airnow.gov, it gives you a Green, yellow red level of air quality.  In addition, it gives you numbers for your geographic area for ozone as well as PM 2.5 fine particulate matter( in our air).

Here’s the deal….anytime that it goes in the yellow zone, it is potentially going to be unhealthy for individuals with underlying heart and lung conditions. Obviously, the darker it gets, the worse off we are in terms of the number of people affected by this environmental hazard.

What is the rap?  The numbers are not that easy to interpret, and actually do not give you real time data regarding what our air quality actually is right now!

What?  Yes… the PM 2.5 reading is actually an average of PM 2.5 per 24 hour period.  In addition, it is based on a non linear calculation…..what?  Yes,  it is hard to estimate exactly what that means…the long and short is, that there is an Air quality index calculator for each pollutant that can be used to calculate the actual average hourly reading.  This is based on the WHO and EPA’s assessment of what levels are acceptable.

Levels according to the EPA are less than 20 ug/m3 for PM 2.5 will get a green result(Green is good!).  I believe that are even lower for the EPA for particulates.

So…..the next time you are planning to work all day in the garden, take a long run or hike, or taking your soccer team out for a two a day summer practice, what should you do?  I would still suggest going to www.Airnow.gov.  Look at what is posted for the current AQI, realize that this represents the past 24 hours, and then look at the value for today.   Today’s numbers are better than yesterday’s data, as they likely…hmmmm reflect weather pattern impact on our air quality.

Once the Clean air board’s monitor is up and running( sadly it is still under repair), we will be able to go to their website and get real time data for Cumberland county.  The monitor will be placed on Dickenson College Campus, where it will track and deliver hourly readings on air quality.

That was an earful I know….but for those interested in this type of stuff,  which sadly we all should be as air pollution is a real thing, this information is quite valuable!

Be wise and be well!


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