Chicago Air Quality
Air Quality: Worse Than You Think but Here’s What You Can Do About It
We all take for granted the idea that we can walk outside and take in a deep breath of fresh air to clear our heads. But what happens when that air isn’t so fresh?
Air quality is getting a lot more attention than usual over the last few years due to its link to climate change and public health. Recent studies have found that even minimal exposure to poor air quality can increase your risk for a number of health issues including cardiac arrest and other cardiovascular complications.
How do you know if the air quality in your area is dangerous? What can you do to protect yourself and your family? Let’s review the current state of our air, the health implications it has, and what you can do to improve air quality. We’ll also teach you how to find and understand your daily air quality report.
How Bad is Chicago’s Air Quality?
Let’s start close to home. For those in Chicago and the nearby suburbs, you might be surprised to know that our city has been ranked within the top 20 most polluted cities in the United States. Coming in at number 18 in the “State of the Air” report, Chicago had 14 unhealthy ozone days between 2015 and 2017. While it’s not in the top-ten list, the current state of Chicago’s air is still a major concern for your health.
Unhealthy Ozone Days and the Impact on Health
An unhealthy ozone day is characterized by high levels of environmental irritants such as pollutants and dust particles. When air quality is at dangerous levels, it can aggravate or cause the following conditions and symptoms:
Difficulty Breathing: You might experience shortness of breath or pain when attempting to take a deep breath.
Throat Issues: Many people will report a feeling of a scratchy throat when the air quality is bad. The throat and airways can become inflamed causing you to cough throughout the day.
Lung Conditions: For those with prior lung-based medical conditions such as asthma or emphysema, poor air quality can trigger an attack. What’s more, it can increase the number of these attacks. If you’re especially vulnerable, bad air quality can cause chronic bronchitis.
Silent Threat: Even when the symptoms listed above disappear, poor air quality can continue to wreak havoc on the body without you knowing.
Where to Find Air Quality Reports
AirNow.gov is a government-sponsored website that provides you with the most up-to-date air quality conditions.
Another useful tool is the Environmental Protection Agency’s record archive of air quality index reports, allowing you to compare and contrast.
How to Read an Air Quality Report
The Air Quality Index (AQI) on the AirNow website is based on a meter of 0 to 500 with green being safe and differing shades of yellow, orange, and red signifying levels of danger. The following chart is directly from AirNow.gov, and it explains each level of air quality:
Good 0 to 50 Air quality is considered satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risk.
Moderate 51 to 100 Air quality is acceptable; however, for some pollutants there may be a moderate health concern for a very small number of people who are unusually sensitive to air pollution.
Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups 101 to 150 Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is not likely to be affected.
Unhealthy 151 to 200 Everyone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.
Very Unhealthy 201 to 300 Health alert: everyone may experience more serious health effects.
Hazardous 301 to 500 Health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected.
Examples of Air pollutants
Above we have been primarily talking about examples of outdoor air pollution. Moreover, outdoor air pollution may be further thought of as originating from either natural or artificial sources. For example, excess pollen released during the spring season as well as accelerated mold growth following severe storms may be thought of as natural sources of outdoor air irritants. In addition, there are also artificial sources of air pollution, which are becoming more common in our world today, such as contents of tobacco smoke and fine particles from fossil fuel sources of energy.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cautions however, that indoor pollutants are 2-5 times higher than outdoor pollutants. Everyday exposures to stoves, heaters, fireplaces, dust, dander, bacteria, virus, pollen, mold, CO2, Radon, NO2, VOC’s and smoke make up much of this indoor pollution.
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself
The best course of action is to limit your exposure as much as possible.
- If you live in an area with particularly bad air quality, you may consider one of the free apps such as AirNow or Air Matters that alert you to bad air quality in your area and limit your outdoor activity on those days. Some of these apps now connect to smart watches and indoor air purifiers.
- If you must spend time in the car on days with bad air quality, turn your car’s fan system on. Remember to replace your cabin filter every once a year or every 20,000 miles.
- You may also consider making the investment in an air purifier in your most lived in areas (bedroom, office, living space) and be sure to replace or keep your filters thoroughly cleaned.
- If you are looking for an air filter check out our team’s top picks: Blueair Blue Pure 211T and Honeywell HA 300 for large spaces and 3 M Filtrete FAP-CO3-A and Winix 5300-2 for small spaces.
Additional things you can do to improve indoor air quality that is often overlooked include:
- Use your range hood (if it vents outside) whenever you cook.
- No fires in the fireplace.
- Vacuum daily with a vacuum that has a HEPA air filter and wash materials such as bedding, pillows, and curtains regularly.
- Make the switch to non-toxic household cleaners.
- For more: Check out our Bust the Dust Wellness Tip
If you have any questions about reducing your exposure to air pollutants or related health concerns please let us know.
- Bing Zhao, Fay H Johnston, Farhad Salimi, Masahiko Kurabayashi, Kazuaki Negishi. Short-term exposure to ambient fine particulate matter and out-of-hospital cardiac arrest: a nationwide case-crossover study in Japan. The Lancet Planetary Health, 2020; 4 (1): e15 DOI: 10.1016/S2542-5196(19)30262-1