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Air Quality Index - What you Need to Know to be Safe Outdoors

During the warmer summer months you tend to spend a lot more time outdoors. Beyond using proper sun protection, you should be also aware of the air quality.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) tells you how clean or polluted your outdoor air is and what associated health effects might be a concern for you.

The AQI scale runs from 0 - 500. The higher the value, the greater risk the air is to your health. One hundred is generally accepted as the standard where air quality is satisfactory.

Levels over 100 are considered unhealthy for sensitive groups of people at first, and then for everyone as the level rises. Those in sensitive groups include older people, those with lung disease / conditions and children. Learn more.

Check your air quality by zip code or state before you head outside, to be sure you are safe or taking proper precautions.

For Your Health: Check the Air Quality Index

If you plan to spend time outdoors, check the Air Quality Index (AQI) for your location. If the air quality is unhealthy, try to reduce the time you spend outside, or change your plans altogether.

Being exposed to polluted air can cause health problems, especially in children, older adults, and those who have heart or lung conditions. 

Even if you’re healthy, you may experience coughing, throat irritation, and shortness of breath when exposed to polluted air. Over time, repeated exposure can trigger asthma and other respiratory diseases.


The Air Quality Index, which is updated daily, measures five major air pollutants:

  • Ground-level ozone
  • Particle pollution (particulate matter)
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Sulfur dioxide
  • Nitrogen dioxide


There are six AQI levels. Here’s a brief summary of what each level means:

Green - Good (AQI 0-50)
Air quality is satisfactory.

 - Moderate (AQI 51-100)

Air quality is acceptable, but there may be a moderate health concern for very sensitive individuals.

 - Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (AQI 101-150)
The general public is not likely to be affected, but older adults, children, and those with heart and lung illnesses may experience adverse health effects. 

Red - Unhealthy (AQI 151-200)
Everyone may begin to experience adverse health effects.

Purple - Very Unhealthy (AQI 201-300)
This would trigger a health alert signifying that everyone may experience more serious health effects.

Maroon - Hazardous (AQI greater than 300)
This would trigger a health warning. The entire population is likely to be affected. 

Learn more about the Air Quality Index and find out what you can do to help keep the air clean.  

Read this post in Spanish.

Improve the Air Quality This Summer

Frequently, you will hear meteorologists mention the air quality index (AQI) during the weather report. The AQI is a tool used to express the local air quality on a daily basis and help you determine if there are any health risks.

The AQI is expressed on a scale from 0 to 500; higher scores indicate greater levels of air pollution and health concerns. There are six AQI categories, ranging from “good” to “hazardous” and each level has a color associated with it to make it easy for people to quickly assess the AQI. Be cautious if the AQI is “code orange” or “code red”.

Some groups, such as children, older adults, and people with lung or heart related diseases are more sensitive to poor air quality, so they need to take extra precautions, such as:

  • Check the AQI in your area at
  • Avoid prolonged periods or heavy outdoor activity

You can also take steps to improve the air quality index this summer, by:

  • Refueling your car after dusk
  • Limiting engine idling
  • Avoiding using gas powered lawn equipment
  • Conserving electricity and set your air conditioner at a higher temperature
  • Combining trips or using public transportation

Find more ways you can improve the air quality this summer.

Understanding the Air Quality Index and How it Affects You

Map from shows today’s air quality for the country.

Each day, the Environmental Protection Agency measures five major air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone, particle pollution (also known as particulate matter), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. Based on these measurements, air quality around the country is graded on a scale from 0-500 called the Air Quality Index (AQI). The lower the AQI number, the safer the air is to breathe. As the number gets higher, breathing the air could lead to health problems, especially if you have asthma or other respiratory illness.

The above map shows today’s air quality forecast based on AQI values across the country.

Find the daily air quality for where you live and learn more about precautions you can take if the air quality is poor.