Can you imagine how poor air quality can affect your health? Do you know what the air quality index is? You’ve probably heard it before, especially during the wildfire season, but what exactly is it and how does it affect you?

In short, the air quality index is a measure of how air pollution can affect a person’s health in a short period.

Forest fires and car pollution are two of the factors that can affect air quality. Pollutants such as carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide contribute to poor air quality.


How is it possible to measure air quality?

In most cases, air quality is measured by calculating the amount of pollutants in the air, taking into account the size of the pollutant molecules and the severity of the pollutant, thus generating a number between 0 and 500.

Good air quality is between zero and 50. Then, the index can dangerously increase through six levels, reaching an index above 301, which is already considered a worrying indicator.


How much harm do these pollutants do to human health?

One of the most harmful pollutants to humans is ozone. Although ozone in the upper atmosphere protects those beneath us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, in the lower atmosphere it can be poisonous to humans, explains Scott Dorval, chief meteorologist at Idaho News 6.

Ozone is a gaseous compound formed by three oxygen atoms, which differs from the two oxygen atoms that living beings usually inhale as normal air.

"The result with ozone is pollution of cars and factories," says Dorval. "When the sun gets very hot, bake that pollution, and one of the outlets is ozone, ozone levels increase".

Long-term exposure to ozone can damage the airways, according to the Environmental Protection Agency and is ultimately related to higher mortality rates.

The Air Quality Index also measures two other types of pollutants: PM2.5 and PM10.

Exposure to PM2.5 can cause heart and lung problems. PM10 is more dangerous, due to larger particles. PM10 particles can also be found in many of the same sources as PM2.5, although they are also most commonly found in forest fires and dust from construction sites and industrial sources.


Is it possible to improve air quality?

Unfortunately, when it comes to forest fires, there’s not much people can do, Dorval explains. However, in less severe air quality conditions, it is advisable to reduce car travel and avoid the handling of dangerous pollutants without proper guidance and in inadequate spaces. Likewise, avoiding burning things outdoors is also an essential measure.


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