Last time around, we looked at using the Air Quality Index as a tool to interpret the oftentimes confusing world of air pollution and personal health. As we know, air pollution comes in many different forms, and each type can have different health effects at different levels.
At the AirNow.gov website, data is gathered from hundreds of air quality monitoring locations nationwide, and used to create a map of air quality conditions. These maps are updated every hour, so you can be assured that the information is as current as possible. And even better, Mesa County is one of the participating agencies in this project.
Using a recent as an example, we can see that much of Colorado was expected to have air quality levels in the Moderate range, with the Denver area experiencing levels in the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups category.
If we wish to dig a little deeper, the legend to the right of the map shows that for the Grand Junction area, ground-level ozone readings were in the Good category. The Moderate designation is due to PM 2.5, or fine particulate (smoke and other very small dust particles and droplets). We can see that PM 2.5 has an Air Quality Index value of 93, which means it is edging close to the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups designation.
In addition to current air quality levels, AirNow provides a forecast for tomorrow’s anticipated levels. This can help individuals make plans to protect their health and to limit their personal contribution to air pollution. If levels are poor today but expected to be good , you might choose to postpone your weekly morning run, or hold off on non-urgent errands in your vehicle.
AirNow also offers a subscription notification service known as EnviroFlash. Enviroflash can deliver air quality alerts straight to your email inbox or phone. And you can tailor the notifications to fit your specific needs. You can specify the geographical areas you are interested in (great for travel!) and the thresholds for triggering the alerts. If you are a generally healthy adult, you may only be concerned when levels are forecast to reach the Unhealthy stage of the Air Quality Index. If you are passionate about following air quality trends, you can receive updates daily, regardless of current conditions.
AirNow information is available as a free app for both iTunes and Android, so there are multiple ways to stay connected.
Next week, I’ll provide some tips on exploring more detailed air quality data, including historical values and information from specific air monitoring sites throughout Colorado and the Western Slope.
Edward Brotsky is the Air Quality Specialist at the Mesa County Health Department. He spends his days gazing at the sky and getting paid for it.