EPA: Take Care to Know Your Air

With the month of April comes the start of baseball season, garden cleanups, and the well-known showers bringing next month's flowers, but it is also the start of ozone season--when air monitors throughout the country begin to record and report on ground-level ozone levels. These monitors collect data for Air Quality Index forecasts reported daily by the media and available on-line.

"I'm glad that people recognize the color-coded Air Quality Index and know to take precautions on 'ozone action days,'" said William C. Early, EPA's mid-Atlantic acting regional administrator. "But what some people may be surprised to hear is that the air quality for all six principal air pollutants, including ozone and particulate matter, has steadily and dramatically improved."

Nationally, average ground-level ozone levels declined in the 1980s, leveled off in the 1990s, and showed a notable decline after 2002, says EPA. Between 1980 and 2007, ground-level ozone levels have been reduced 21 percent. Air quality standards have become more stringent and air pollution levels have declined. Still, ground-level ozone and particle matter can pose serious health problems, which is why the index is important.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) forecasts help people to be prepared for days with poor air quality. The forecasts range from 'green'---a good day to engage in outdoor activities- -to 'red' ozone action days, when everyone should use caution. Ozone action days are called when the AQI gets into the unhealthy ranges. Purple and maroon levels are rarely, if ever, reached anymore.

The AQI tells you how clean the air is or is not, and what related health effects might be a concern for you. If air pollution reaches high enough levels, the air can be unhealthy for everyone, especially if you are active outdoors. Reducing your exposure can be as simple as lowering the intensity of your exercise or other activities such as yard work, or rescheduling the activity for a time when air quality is expected to be better.

EPA notes that there are many actions we can take to help reduce ground-level ozone. One simple idea that many people tend to overlook is to run errands either early in the morning or later in the evening when ozone levels have reduced. The agency offers the following Web links for more information:

To subscribe online to get the daily forecasts, follow the directions on “EnviroFlash” at www.airnow.gov/. Recent improvements to EnviroFlash make it easier to use. Just enter: you name, e-mail address, and zip code and EnviroFlash will find the nearest local forecast. You can customize your request to get just the info you need, such as just on “orange and red” days. The same Web site, developed by EPA, NOAA, the National Park Service, and other agencies, offers daily AQI forecasts as well as real-time AQI conditions for more than 300 cities.

April 27 to May 1, 2009 is Air Quality Awareness Week. For day-by-day info, see www.epa.gov/airnow/airaware/.

The National Weather Service also provides a national air quality forecast at www.weather.gov/aq.

Information on air quality trends is available at epa.gov/airtrends.

To compare the air quality in your community to others, see www.epa.gov/aircompare/.

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