Breakdown: Why air quality alerts matter

Why Air Quality Alerts matter

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - In the summer months, air quality alerts get issued more than any other time of the year. In this episode of the Breakdown, we will explain why air quality alerts matter and how they get issued.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the Air Quality Index (AQI) to monitor and report on the air quality each day and let people know of potential impacts.

The AQI is based on a scale of 0 to 500, which the number represents the level of pollution that is in the air around a city. State and local agencies will report the AQI daily in U.S. cities with populations over 350,000 people.

Air Quality Alert Index
Air Quality Alert Index (Source: WMC Action News 5)

Four main pollutants are measured, Ozone, Particulate Matter, Carbon Monoxide and Sulfur Dioxide. The two main pollutants in the Mid-South are Ozone and Particulate Matter. Bad ozone can increase due to car exhaust and factory fumes. While particulate matter is raised by dust, ash and smoke.

Weather plays a role in increasing the pollutants as well, when we have hot, dry weather with calm winds, the air becomes more stagnant, keeping the pollutants near the surface causing bad air quality numbers to increase.

Most common in the Mid-South are code orange days. On a code orange day, the air quality index reaches levels that can be dangerous for some groups. However, code red or purple air quality alerts means that it is dangerous for everyone to breathe the air, but these days are rare in our region.

When air quality is poor people are recommended to conserve energy, as power plants can increase the bad air quality. People are also encouraged to carpool or drive less, to help reduce the amount of ozone in the atmosphere.

Nevertheless, it is important to understand what the air quality alerts mean, especially kids, the elderly and those with certain diseases or sensitivity to pollutants.

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