Air Quality and Human Health

While air pollution can affect the view, it can also affect our health. Below is some information on the health effects of various air pollution levels.

Most CAMNET sites measure one to three pollutants that, if present in sufficient quantities, may affect our health. Fine particles (sometimes known as soot), and ground-level ozone (sometimes known as smog) are two such pollutants. Particles are a mixture of microscopic acids, metals, petroleum byproducts, and diesel soot. Ozone is a colorless, odorless gas that is formed when nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) react in sunlight. Their health effects are summarized below.

Health Effects (not all of these are noticeable)Ground-Level Ozone (O3)Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5)
Coughing, irritation of the airways, discomfort in the chest or when breathingX 
Premature aging of the lungsX 
Faster or more shallow breathingXX
Aggravation of asthma, emphysema, and other respiratory diseases XX
Increased risk of respiratory infectionsXX
Premature death (primarily among the elderly and those with existing heart and lung disease) X

Finally, everyone should be careful to avoid too much exposure to the sun, especially children and especially during the summer. Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun not only cause sunburn and permanent damage to the skin, but they can lead to cataracts and suppression of the skin's immune system. To learn more about ultraviolet rays and to get realtime information and UV forecasts, visit EPA's SunWise website.

The Air Quality Index (AQI)

Ozone and particles affect different people in different ways. Moreover, as their concentrations increase, more and more people experience health effects and the effects become more serious. To simplify matters, the U.S. EPA has developed an Air Quality Index (AQI), that rates the overall quality of the air and the people at greatest risk.

AQI Value Description Who's Affected
0-50 Good Nobody
51-100 Moderate Unusually sensitive individuals
101-150 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups Sensitive Groups:
  • Children
  • The elderly
  • Asthmatics
  • People with lung disease
  • People with heart disease
  • Adults who are active outdoors
151-200 Unhealthy General public, especially sensitive groups

For more information on the AQI, see this brochure from the EPA.