How is Air Quality Measured?

Summary: We can all help improve the air quality by taking a few simple steps. Log into the AQMD website to see how safe your air is today.

Most of us don’t really give the quality of the air we breathe a second thought. Then again, most of us don’t live in Los Angeles. The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), the air pollution control agency for Orange County and the urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties, releases data regarding the quality of the air that 16 million Californians will breathe. Levels of ozone, nitrogen and sulfur dioxides, carbon monoxide, and fine and course particulate matter are measured and analyzed. Although in recent years the Air Quality Index (AQI) of these counties has improved, 68 days in 2003 reported ozone levels twice as high as the federal standard for clean air (40 CFR Part 58).

For years the Environmental Protection Agency has been using AQI to alert the public to the quality of their air. This federally funded agency measures the same air components as the AQMD and releases daily reports regarding air quality for the entire country on their website Using an easy-to-read color coded system, anyone can log on and find out how safe the air they will be breathing that day is. The system uses green (good) through maroon (hazardous) to let the public know who will breathe easily outside and who should stay indoors (orange represents air quality that is hazardous to certain sensitive groups such as the elderly and those with compromised respiratory systems). But is Los Angeles the only city in the world with such hazardous levels of air contaminants? Not by a long shot. While L.A. is definitely near the top of the list , Kalamay, China has comparable levels of air pollutants and Lanzhou, also in China, is literally off the charts. Even Sanio, the Japanese company that makes children’s’ products under the names of Hello Kitty, Badtz Maru, and others manufacture dust masks with their trademarked designs. In reality, most major cities with a population of 350,000 is at risk for reduced air quality. So how do we improve our air quality? We all know that automobile exhaust has an effect of pollution, but there are other common things that compromise air quality. The AQMD points out that we can all help to raise the level of air quality by carpooling or using public transit, using water-based instead of alkyd-based paint, keeping sources of dust damp to discourage ambient particulates, avoiding aerosol products, recycling, and conserving energy in any way possible.

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