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What is the air quality index?

People walk along 6th Avenue in Manhattan on Wednesday as haze and smoke caused by wildfires in Canada blanket New York City. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

“What is your AQI?”

– Everyone on the East Coast rn

With smoke from Canadian wildfires triggering air quality warnings in more than a dozen U.S. states, millions of Americans have suddenly become intimately familiar with the Air Quality Index, or AQI, a color-coded numerical scale that helps people understand health risks and exposure to air. pollutants in the air at any given time.

The Environmental Protection Agency has an online dashboard (AirNow.gov) where you can type in your location (or any other location) to find out the AQI.

“The US Air Quality Index is getting a lot of media attention right now, but it is really fantastic,” said Dr. Brady Scott, a fellow at the American Association for Respiratory Care, told Yahoo News. “Because you can just put in your zip code and kind of understand what the air quality is where you are.”

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President Biden shows off a printout of the U.S. Air Quality Index for Washington, DC, at the White House on Thursday.  (Kevin Lamarque/Pool via Reuters).President Biden shows off a printout of the U.S. Air Quality Index for Washington, DC, at the White House on Thursday.  (Kevin Lamarque/Pool via Reuters).

President Biden shows off a printout of the U.S. Air Quality Index for Washington, DC, at the White House on Thursday. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool via Reuters).

The so-called AirNow system was created by the EPA in 1998 to serve as a “centralized, nationwide repository” for real-time data collected by local, state and federal agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Park Service , NASA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And the subsequent Air Quality Index (AQI) measures the amount of pollution in the air on a scale of 0-500, with the higher number indicating a higher concentration of the following pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act:

• Ground level ozone

• Particle pollution (also called particulate matter)

• Carbon monoxide

• Sulphur dioxide

• Nitrogen dioxide

Canada’s wildfires are releasing high concentrations of fine particles (less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, virtually invisible to the naked eye) into southward-driving air, raising the AQI in states from Vermont to South Carolina.

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The Manhattan skyline WednesdayThe Manhattan skyline Wednesday

The Manhattan skyline Wednesday. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

In New York City, for example, the AQI peaked at 405 on Wednesday, the highest level since records began, according to an analysis of EPA data by Fox Weather. The previous record, 279, was set in July 1981.

Any number above 100 is considered ‘unhealthy’ for sensitive groups, such as children or people with heart or lung disease. When the AQI rises above 200, everyone is at risk, even people without respiratory conditions.

Or you can just go by the colors.

“If it’s green or yellow, that’s OK for most people,” Brady explains. “If it is orange there is concern that some people, especially those with respiratory conditions, may be affected. If you are in the red zone and especially if we are in the purple or maroon zone, everyone is at risk, even if you are a supposedly healthy person.”

If you haven’t already done so, you can find your current AQI on the AirNow.gov website here >>>

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Tourists document the haze in Times SquareTourists document the haze in Times Square

Tourists document the haze in Times Square. (Maye-E Wong/Reuters)

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