What Is the Air Quality Index and Why Is It Important?

No doubt you’ve seen the signs on the freeway advising you drive as little as possible to help improve air-quality. Utah news anchors routinely quip about the inversion and many of us wrinkle our noses when we wake up to yet another day of a city blanketed in drab smog.

One of our team recently snapped this photo upon decent to Salt Lake Int’l airport:

Utah Inversion From Chicago to SLC Flight 

Yikes! With that visual in mind, it's a good time to talk about the Air Quality Index and why it's so important to the lives of us all.

Why is air quality so important?

Like anything we put in our bodies, the air we breathe affects our overall health. In an effort to help people inform themselves about the day-to-day air quality in their area, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established the Air Quality Index.

What is the Air Quality Index?

The air quality index is used by government agencies to update the public on how polluted the air in their area is currently, or how polluted it is forecast to become.

Air Quality Index AQI Chart

Understanding the Air Quality Index

  • Good is defined numerically as air quality ranging from 0 - 50. Air quality in this range is considered to be satisfactory with air pollution posing little or no risk to the public.
  • Moderate Air Quality encompasses number ranging from 51 - 100. Although this range is considered acceptable, there may be certain pollutants that present a moderate health concern for a small number of people. Most commonly, those who tend to be extremely sensitive may experience respiratory issues as a result.
  • Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups AQI ranges from 101 - 150. Although it's unlikely that the air quality will effect the general public, those with lung disease, older adults and children are at a greater risk from exposure to ozone. Individuals with with diseases of the heart and/or lungs, older adults and children are at greater risk from the presence of particles inhaled.
  • An Unhealthy AQI is defined as being between 151 - 200. Everyone, regardless of age and/or pre-existing conditions, may experience adverse health effects. Persons who are already high risk may find themselves experiencing more serious health effects related to the poor air quality.
  • An AQI ranging from 201 - 300 is considered to be Very Unhealthy. This would trigger a health alert signifying that everyone may experience more serious health effects.
  • If the AQI reaches a number greater than 300, it is considered Hazardous. In this event, many health warnings of emergency conditions would be issued. At this level, the entire population is likely to be effected.


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