Air Quality and Health

Who is Most at Risk?

Several groups of people are particularly sensitive to air pollution, especially when they are active outdoors. This is because air pollution levels are higher outdoors, and physical activity causes faster and deeper breathing, drawing the polluted air into the body. 

  • People with lung diseases, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema can be particularly sensitive. They may generally experience more serious health effects at lower levels. Air pollution can aggravate their diseases, leading to increased medication use, doctor and emergency room visits, and hospital admissions. 
  • Children, including teenagers, are at higher risk, especially while playing outdoors in warmer weather when either ozone levels are higher or particulate matter is present because their lungs are still developing. They may be more likely to have asthma. 
  • Older adults may be more affected if they have pre-existing lung disease. 
  • Active people of all ages who exercise or work vigorously outdoors are at increased risk.
  • Some healthy people are more sensitive to air pollution and may experience health effects at lower levels than the average person even though they have none of the risk factors listed above.

In general, as concentrations of ground-level ozone increase and/or particulate matter pollution increases, more people may begin to experience serious health effects. When levels are very high, everyone should be concerned about their exposure. 

Always consult your physician if you are experiencing health problems.ozone_formation

Air Quality Pollutant Overview

Ground-Level Ozone

Air pollution can cause or contribute to serious health impacts for people of all ages, including pulmonary, cardiac, vascular, and neurological impairments. Ozone and particulate matter have specifically been known to cause irritation to the respiratory system, reduced lung function, damage to the cells that line the lungs, as well as permanent lung damage. Air pollution can also trigger heart attacks, strokes, and irregular heart rhythms, especially in people who are already at risk for these conditions.


Particulate Matter

For particulate matter, the particles of concern include both "fine" particles and somewhat larger "coarse" dust particles. Fine particles – PM2.5 and smaller – are so small that they can only be seen through an electron microscope. Fine particles have been more clearly linked to the most serious health problems.

Visit our Air Quality Monitoring page for current conditions, forecasts, and information.

Reduce Exposure When Pollutant Levels Are High

  • Avoid exercising outdoors when the air quality is unhealthy.
  • Limit your time outdoors by walking indoors in a shopping mall or gym or using an exercise machine.
  • Limit the amount of time your child spends playing outdoors.
  • Avoid exercising near high-traffic areas. Even when air quality forecasts are green, the vehicles on busy highways may create high pollution levels up to one-third of a mile away.

The following charts can be used as guides on when to limit your activity and exposure outdoors.

For more Smoke Information, click here.

Reduce Pollution When Pollutant Levels Are High

  • Defer lawn and garden chores that use gasoline or diesel powered equipment.
  • Reduce the number of trips you take in your vehicle.
  • Reduce fireplace or woodstove use, if possible, on days with high particulate matter (smoke).