What is the AQI?

What is the AQI?

What it means – and why it matters

January 21, 2021 | Published by O2

Take a deep breath. You can’t fool me, I saw you, you didn’t do what I asked, go ahead and take a deep breath. The average human takes approximately 20,000 breaths per day. We breathe when we eat, when we sleep, when we walk, when we talk and even sometimes when someone asks us to; in fact breathing is something that we do so naturally and so effortlessly that it is literally unconscious.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 9 out of 10 people worldwide breathe air that is polluted. If 90% of the world’s population is breathing polluted air, and the average human is breathing 20,000 times per day, it seems that breathing ought to be something we think about consciously more often — don’t you think?

What is the AQI?

BTW, ICYMI, FWIW, I was going to fill you in on what AQI means.

We live in a world of acronyms, whether on social media or in our jobs where we are constantly speaking in ways that many have to stop and ask us ‘what did you say?’ Like the many acronyms above, AQI is another common one that stands for Air Quality Index.

The Air Quality Index is a scaled representation indicating the level of cleanliness of the air that we breathe. The AQI ranges from 0 to 300+; 0 representing a highly acceptable level of air quality, while 300+ represents a dangerously hazardous level of air quality. The AQI provides a clear and colourful visual that is easy to read and comprehend.

The table above is the US Air Quality Index, which is recognized worldwide as the standard for air quality indices.

Why pay attention to the AQI?

The AQI is based on pollutants in the air that contribute to low air quality. Five of these major outdoor air pollutants are: ozone (O3), nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and particulate matter (PM10 and PM 2.5). Regardless of whether or not these pollutants are visible, they are out there, and they are impossible to avoid.

It is widely known that air pollution can negatively impact our respiratory system, our lungs, our heart, and our brain. What is not so well known is that It can be a key contributing factor to health problems like lung cancer, miscarriages, and dementia.

Not only is it important that we pay closer attention to the AQI to better protect ourselves, but it is necessary that we do so in order to better protect our children. The Children’s Health Study conducted by the University of Southern California, shows findings that children who are exposed to air pollution are at a greater risk of developing short-term respiratory infections, including asthma, and bronchitis. 

While it is important we pay attention to the AQI for ourselves and our children, it is equally as important that we do so for our planet. Poor air quality can have longing effects on the earth and is a contributing factor of climate change.

What can I do?

Air pollution is not constrained to any one place or space, it does not hold any geographical borders, meaning we have a social responsibility to pay closer attention and take the necessary actions to better protect ourselves, our children, and the earth.

Out of a myriad of things that could be done to protect our exposure to air pollutants, 3 simple practices that one can engage in are firstly, regularly check the AQI so as to limit your exposure when pollutants are at dangerous levels. Secondly, attempt to reduce your carbon footprint by choosing environmentally friendly options whenever possible. Consider walking or biking, and supporting businesses that are eco-conscious. Finally, wear a mask — when choosing a mask to protect against air pollution you may want to consider the O2 Curve. The O2 Curve is actually not a mask, it’s a respirator, and in the case of air pollution a respirator is in fact the better choice. Key features to consider when shopping for a respirator to protect against air pollution include seal, exhaust valves, and filtration.

Now that you know…

Now that you know what the AQI is, and why it is important, do me a favour and take a look at this real time 3D map of the earth. I want you to search where you currently live, a place you have travelled, and another place you are curious about. Compare their AQI ratings and reflect upon why these discrepancies might exist. 


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