EPA, NOAA Offers Reminders On How To Protect Your Health, Reduce Pollution During Air Quality Awareness Week

EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) are reminding people across the country about the health impact of air quality in their communities as part of national Air Quality Awareness Week, May 15-19. Both agencies are urging Americans to check air quality forecasts to protect their health.

"Daily weather conditions, such as hot temperatures, sunshine, and stagnant air, can be among the factors supporting dangerous air quality," said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, PhD, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "NOAA is proud to partner with the EPA and local air quality forecasters in providing Americans with the air quality information necessary to make important health decisions."

Daily air quality forecasts are issued by state and local governments based on EPA's Air Quality Index, a color-coded scale that describes a community's air quality and when people should take steps to reduce their exposure to pollution. The color-coded scale ranges from green, which means air quality is good, to maroon, which means air quality is hazardous. These forecasts are available for ozone, which occurs primarily in summertime, and for particle pollution, which can occur year-round.

When air pollution reaches the "code orange" level, certain sensitive groups of people are more likely to be affected by pollution and should take steps to reduce their exposure -- such as reducing the intensity of exercise or other activities such as yard work, or rescheduling the activity for a time when air quality is expected to be better.

To bring these important forecasts to the public, air quality forecasters use a combination of weather forecast information, current ozone or particle concentrations, and local knowledge of air pollution sources. Currently, NOAA computer guidance is improving forecasters' ability to predict the onset, severity, and duration of ozone pollution across the eastern half of the United States. NOAA plans to expand its air quality forecast guidance, on an experimental basis, to include the western half of the continental United States this summer.

For information on National Air Quality Awareness Week, go to http://www.airnow.gov/airaware.cfm.

For information on air quality, go to http://www.airnow.gov.

For NOAA's Air Quality Guidance, go to http://www.weather.gov/aq.

For information on how ozone affects human health, go to http://www.epa.gov/airnow/airaware/day3-details.html.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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