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Exploring the Air Quality Index- What you should know

Air Quality Index, AQI

You might keep hearing about the rising air quality index of the major cities in India, such as Delhi, especially during winter. But have you ever wondered what the air quality index is? And how does it affect our health and environment? If you are aware of the air quality index and its consequences, you have the right knowledge to safeguard yourself and the environment. But if not, this blog will help you know everything about the air quality index. So, let us begin without wasting any time.

What is the Air Quality Index?

The air quality index is an index that is used to measure the air quality of a specific region. In other words, we can say that AQI measures the level of air pollution. It measures various pollutants in the air, such as particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), Carbon Monoxide, Sulfur Dioxide, and many more. The high value of the air quality index represents poor quality of air, and the low value represents good quality air. The below chart will help you know about the healthy and unhealthy values of the air quality Index.

Values of IndexLevels of concernAir quality
0 to 50GoodAir quality does not pose any threat or risk.
51 to 100ModerateAir quality is acceptable but it can cause risk to those people who are sensitive to air pollution.
101 to 150Unhealthy for some peopleCommon people are less likely to get affected by this. However, sensitive people may experience health concerns.
151 to 200UnhealthyThe general public may experience some issues, and sensitive people may experience more problems.
201 to 300Very unhealthyThis index is risky for everyone.
301 and higherHazardousA healthy warning is issued for everyone.

What are the Common Pollutants of the Air Quality Index?

As we have mentioned above, the air quality index is calculated by measuring the outdoor pollutants in the air. Let’s discuss the five most common pollutants in AQI. 

Particulate Matter 

Particulate matter is small solid particles and liquid droplets in the air. They are produced by any type of burning or dust-generating activities. Some sources of particulate matter are emissions from vehicles, burning of wood such as open burning, and dirt from wind blows. Particulates which are less than 2.5 millimetres in diameter are called small particulates. They are emitted directly from vehicle exhaust, industrial processes, agriculture burning and many more. On the other hand, large particulate diameters range from 2.5 to 10 millimetres. They are produced from construction activities, agriculture practices, and windblown dust.

Nitrogen Oxide and Ozone

Another highly reactive pollutant in the air quality index is Nitrogen Oxide, which is composed of Nitrogen Dioxide and Nitric Oxide. Industrial facilities, power plants, and residential heating, are some source from where we can found the traces of this particle. Ozone is a gas that protects us from harmful ultraviolet radiation. It is produced by a chemical reaction between sunlight, organic gasses, and nitrogen oxide. 

However, the Ozone gas that is included in the air quality index is ground-level Ozone, which is harmful to human health. It is produced from vehicle emissions, industrial processes, and many more sources. This gas leads to issues such as breathing difficulties and other respiratory issues.

Sulfur Dioxide

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a colourless and poisonous gas that produces a strong and irritating odour. The smell of this gas is similar to that of burning a matchstick. Sulfur Dioxide can generally be found in the process Burning of fossil fuels, natural volcanic activity, power plants, and industrial facilities!

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a colourless and odourless gas that is formed by incomplete combustion of gasses such as gasoline, natural gas and wood. It is a toxic gas that forms carbon dioxide and leads to death. Residential heating systems, gas-powered appliances, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces are a few sources of carbon monoxide.

Also read, Water Pollution, From our Oceans to Tap Water

Effect of these Pollutants on our Health and the Environment

These pollutants have negative impact on Humans, Environemnt and every Living Being on the Earth. One of major effect of these pollutants are that they degrade the air quality, which causes issues to both our health and the environment

When it comes to humans, it causes breathing issues, eye irritation, reduced visibility, and sometimes premature death.

Similarly, a high air quality index leads to acid rain, damaging crops, aquatic life, insects and animals. Let us discuss the health effects of pollutants on health and the environment in detail.

Health effects

AQI pollutants such as particulate matter (PM 2.5 and PM 10), Nitrogen Dioxide, Sulfur Dioxide and Carbon Monoxide lead to a range of issues. For example, short-term exposure to particulate matter leads to eye, nose and throat irritation. Long-term exposure to PM leads to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and premature death.

Similarly, Nitrogen and Sulphur Dioxide irritate the respiratory system and worsen your condition if you have Asthma and other issues. Carbon monoxide leads to dizziness, headaches, nausea, and high concentration of CO leads to unconsciousness and death. Ozone gas makes you more vulnerable to respiratory issues and increases heart-related issues.

Environmental effects 

Pollutants involved in the air quality index impact the environment in the same way they effects human health. Particulate matter in AQI gets deposited in soil and water, affecting the soil quality and aquatic ecosystems. Sulphur Dioxide in the air, when reacts with water vapour, produces acid rain, and damages the soil, aquatic life and vegetation.

Similarly, nitrogen dioxide acidifies soil and water, harming plants and marine life. On the other hand, carbon monoxide does not directly impact the environment. However, it contributes to the formation of greenhouse gasses, which leads to global warming and climate change. Last, but not least, ozone gas damages the ecosystem by harming sensitive species and reducing diversity. You will get to learn more about the effects of pollutants on human health and the environment at top CBSE schools in Barotiwala. They give students the required knowledge and skills to address the challenges associated with poor air quality index.

What can you do to stay safe from poor air quality?

Poor air quality Index negatively affects everyone's health, so stay up to date with the Air quality index in your area. AQI below 100 is not a matter of concern, except for those who are sensitive groups, such as children and elderly who have respiratory or cardiovascular issues. Follow the below step if the AQI goes above 100 in your areas.

1. Don’t spend more than 30 minutes outside if the AQI reaches a higher level. Staying long in unhealthy levels of air pollution can increase the risk of respiratory issues and other health-related problems.

2. Wearing masks can save you from the pollutants, but a cloth or dust mask can’t filter the fine particles. But masks such as N95 or K95 have better filter capabilities. And as we are already accustomed to wearing masks during the Corona pandemic, it will be easy for us to do this.

3. Keep your indoor air clean by planting air-purifying houseplants such as snake plants, peace lilies and spider plants. Also, plant trees surrounding your home to improve the quality of air nearby your home.

Final words

The air quality index is an important parameter, which gives us vital information about the quality of the air that we breathe. So, understanding about AQI will help you make informed decisions and take steps to protect yourself. It will also help you take measures as a community as well as individually to contribute to improving the surrounding air quality.