Air Quality Alert Levels: A Comprehensive Guide

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Receiving an air quality alert on your phone is a frightening experience, and many don't even know where these warnings originate.Monitor alert-01

For decades, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has gathered data on air pollution to air quality. The EPA's certified Air Quality Index (AQI) is a basic testing method used to protect public health. However, building owners should also measure indoor air quality levels to ensure all occupants remain safe. 

This article explores air quality alert levels, including what they track and how to understand them. We also explain how property managers should leverage air quality monitors to track particulate matter and pollution levels in indoor spaces. 

Air Quality Alert Levels 101

Air quality alerts were developed in 1970 with the passing of the Clean Air Act. The government began initiatives to track the origins and results of poor air quality, whether it be wildfires, excessive car exhaust, or factory emissions. To begin setting air quality standards, the EPA decided to measure the following pollutants: 

  • Particle pollution/particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10)
  • Ground-level ozone
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Sulfur dioxide
  • Nitrogen dioxide

Then, to explain pollution levels, the EPA formed an air quality level chart. This chart helps citizens understand the AQI, the associated risks, and who needs to be concerned:

  • Green (0-50): Air quality is good, with little to no health risks.
  • Yellow (51-100): Air quality is acceptable and risks are small, but those with sensitivity to pollution could experience a minor impact.
  • Orange (101-150): Air is unhealthy for sensitive groups and could cause serious health effects, but the general public likely won't be affected.
  • Red (151-200): Air is unhealthy, and sensitive groups risk serious health effects, while the general public risks minor adverse effects.
  • Purple (201-300): Air is very unhealthy, posing severe risks to the entire public. 
  • Maroon (300+): Air quality is hazardous and a serious emergency; everyone is likely to experience health effects from the conditions.

These numbers outlined by the EPA measure outdoor air pollution. However, it's vital for property owners to take additional precautions to improve indoor air quality. For example, as air quality systems progress, additional measurements help track a broader range of indoor pollutants, such as indoor CO2 levels, mold, formaldehyde, asbestos, and radon.

Health Implications of Poor Air Quality

Studies show that one in three Americans live in places with poor air quality levels, which, when unaddressed, leads to severe health risks.

Here are a few major health risks from prolonged exposure to poor air quality: 

  • Respiratory and lung disease: Prolonged exposure can result in aggravated asthma, poor prenatal lung development, or an increased chance of lung cancer.
  • Cardiovascular disease: Excessive exposure to ozone can increase blood platelets, clotting, and higher blood pressure.
  • Cognitive decline: Pollution can lead to stunted prenatal cognitive development, an inability to focus, or intensified effects of mental illness.

How to Monitor Air Quality

Tracking local air quality levels requires taking the initiative, but it's a simple process overall. To start, there are official websites that provide updates on air quality levels. 

The process is simple: Just plug in your ZIP code, and the AQI appears. However, if levels become dangerous or are forecasted to become dangerous, officials administer alerts through TV, radio, or SMS message. 

However, property owners shouldn't simply rely on government officials to understand pollution levels. It's crucial to continuously monitor indoor air quality as well, as Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors. The EPA standards can't accurately track indoor pollution, so a robust indoor sensor network is needed to track indoor pollution sources and avoid adverse health effects.

Types of Air Quality Alerts

Government officials use multiple forms of air quality services to administer alerts and warnings. There are three different types, which are dependent on the severity of health risks:

  1. Air quality advisory: when air conditions are expected to become dangerous for sensitive groups, such as children, pregnant women, or those with respiratory disease
  2. Air quality alert: when air quality is expected to reach unhealthy levels concerning all people, not just particular at-risk groups
  3. Air quality warning: when air quality is expected to become dangerous enough to pose severe health risks for all individuals 

How to Respond to Air Quality Alerts - Attune

How to Respond to Air Quality Alerts

Many fail to understand what precautions to take after receiving an air quality health alert. The best action is to stay informed, as officials issue instructions concerning what and what not to do. 

Often, after an air alert goes out, it's wise to limit outdoor activities. For example, any exercise or physical activity should be conducted in an environment with filtered air. 

However, don't assume you're safe just because you're inside. Check your current air-conditioning filter to ensure it's not dirty. Additionally, consider setting up an air purifier and ensure all doors and windows are shut and sealed. Also, avoid smoking or using too many combustible products inside. 

Get Real-Time Alerts With Attune

Attune stands at the forefront of providing buildings and homes with cutting-edge technology to secure indoor air quality. Our system doesn't merely track common air pollutants outlined by the EPA. The Attune Sensware IoT solution runs on both hardware and software. After you place sensors in key areas throughout a building or facility, they collect and funnel a continuous stream of real-time data into the mobile, cloud-based platform. Then, Attune aggregates reports and issues alerts so you immediately know when indoor air quality risks arise. 

We continue outfitting our tech with the highest-grade solutions. For example, we partnered with a firefighter safety company, Toxic Suppression, to install features that alert first responders to any airborne threats as they look to save lives. Additionally, our solution includes active mold monitoring features for detecting mold growth and spores early on, before they become a significant problem to human health or cause building damage. 

Put your indoor air quality data to work to maintain the safest possible environment. Schedule a demo today to see our solution in action. 


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