Unhealthy Air Quality for Sensitive Groups

It’s probably too early to be talking about air quality, but we’re getting close to the time of year when air quality becomes a concern for some people. Air quality ratings are broken down into six categories: good, moderate, unhealthy for sensitive groups (USG), unhealthy, very unhealthy, and hazardous. Health-related impacts start at the USG level.

When air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, people with lung disease, older adults and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors; everyone else should limit prolonged or heavy exertion. People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children are more likely to be affected by pollutant levels at this level.

When ozone levels are at the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups range, research shows that even healthy people who exercise vigorously outdoors may experience health effects. Certain outdoor activities can increase the amount of air you breathe per minute. So, the higher the ozone level, the quicker you may begin to experience symptoms.

What is air quality and why is it important?

Air quality is an important part of our everyday lives. It affects the health of our families, our communities, and the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets air quality standards for pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment.

Air quality is a term used to describe the condition of the air around us. Air quality provides information on the presence of pollutants in the air that can be harmful to human health and the environment.

Air quality is important to us because it affects what we do. In the short term, poor air quality can make activities such as walking or cycling uncomfortable and potentially hazardous for our health. In the long term, problems with air quality can have significant effects on our children’s development and lung function

How does pollution get into the air?

Air pollution comes from many different sources: stationary sources such as factories, power plants, and smelters and smaller sources such as dry cleaners and degreasing operations; mobile sources such as cars, buses, planes, trucks, and trains; and naturally occurring sources such as windblown dust, and volcanic eruptions, all contribute to air pollution.

Who is most at risk for health effects related to air pollutants?

Everyone is potentially at risk for health effects from pollutants in the air. However, some people are more vulnerable than others. Sensitive groups include people with lung diseases such as asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), children, and older adults. People with heart disease also may be affected by air pollution.

How does Unhealthy Air Quality impact sensitive groups?

Sensitive groups have a greater likelihood of experiencing health effects from poor air quality. As the AQI increases, so does the number of people who may experience symptoms.

Sensitive groups include people with asthma, heart disease, and other respiratory diseases. Ozone can irritate the airways and trigger asthma attacks in children and adults. Fine particles can also aggravate heart and lung diseases.

Other sensitive groups include children and teens, older adults, and people who are active outdoors.

Children’s lungs are still developing, which means they may be more vulnerable to air pollution than adults. Children breathe faster than adults, taking in more air per pound of bodyweight than adults do. Their smaller or narrower airways can also make it easier for them to get clogged by pollution.

Older adults tend to be more sensitive to air pollution because they may have pre-existing medical conditions that can be exacerbated by breathing polluted air. Some medications that older adults take may also increase their sensitivity to air pollution.

Adults who are active outdoors are at a higher risk for experiencing health effects from poor air quality because they tend to breathe more deeply and quickly when exercising than when at rest—drawing in more polluted air. If you exercise or work outdoors when the Air