National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Air Quality Awareness Week 
May 2-6, 2016 
 

The National Weather Service and EPA, has designated May 2nd to 6th, 2016 as Air Quality Awareness Week in the United States. This week was established to remind persons of the importance air quality and air quality forecasts can play in their daily lives. 

There are two kinds of pollutants commonly found in our area. The first is ozone, which is formed when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds are heated by the sun. As a result, ozone levels are usually highest in the summer. The second pollutant is knows as particle pollution, which consists of microscopic particles in the air. Not only is particle pollution a problem in the summer, it is also found in the winter due to wood smoke from stoves and furnaces. 

Ozone- and particle-forming pollutants come from a wide variety of sources, including cars, buses, power plants, and industries. Natural sources such as wildfires and dust storms contribute to particle pollution. Trees and other vegetation also emit organic compounds that contribute to particle and ozone pollution. 

A perfect example of particle pollution occurred on Memorial Day 2010. Smoke from wildfires in Quebec spread south into Vermont and Northern New York resulting in poor air quality across much of the North Country. For a detailed explanation of the 2010 Memorial Day Smoke Out visit https://www.weather.gov/media/btv/events/31May2010.pdf

Weather plays a big role in the levels of ozone and particle pollution. Sunlight and heat promote ozone formation. Light winds and temperature inversions can keep pollution concentrated near the ground. The wind can bring in more pollution, sometimes from hundreds of miles away. Geography can affect pollution levels, too. Mountain ranges can prevent pollution from dispersing, with the pollutants settling in the surrounding valleys. 

Exposure to high levels of ozone and particle pollution is linked with a number of significant health problems. Children, people with lung disease, older adults, and people with heart disease tend to be more vulnerable. When pollution reaches high enough levels, the air can be unhealthy for everyone, especially those who are active outdoors. 

Use the Air Quality Index and daily air quality forecasts to help you determine when pollutant levels are high and what steps you should take to protect yourself. The AQI is a color-coded scale that tells you who will be most affected by current or forecast pollution levels. Local air quality forecasts and the AQI can be found at www.airnow.gov.

You can help reduce pollution by following these steps:

  • Carpool or use public transportation
  • Delay using lawn mowers and other gasoline-powered lawn equipment until later in the day
  • Avoid burning leaves, trash, and other materials
  • Keep your car in good operating condition and get regular tune ups.

For more information, visit www.airquality.noaa.gov