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Outside Air: Are You Breathing Healthy Air?

May 2013

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Did you know that our air in the United States is cleaner now than it was 30 years ago, thanks to better laws and improved technology?
Picture this scenario. It’s a beautiful morning. You’re waiting at a bus stop, headed for work. At the light, a bus comes by but it is not yours. This bus comes to a stop at the red light to pick up passenger. The light turns green, the bus begins to move, and you suddenly find yourself, along with everyone else at the bus stop, engulfed in a cloud of black diesel smoke. For many Americans, breathing carbon monoxide or diesel exhaust along with their coffee is part of their morning routine, but it comes with a price. Long term exposure to air pollutants is linked with both heart disease and lung cancer.
Clean air is essential to your day-to-day and long-term health, but millions of Americans live in places where outdoor air pollution is a reality. Below are some small steps to stay healthy when the air quality around you is poor:

  • Check the Air Quality Index (AQI) before planning your outdoor activities and heed warnings. Think of the AQI as a yardstick that runs from 0 to 500. The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern. For example, an AQI value of 50 represents good air quality with little potential to affect public health, while an AQI value over 300 represents hazardous air quality. An AQI value of 100 generally corresponds to the national air quality standard which is the level EPA has set to protect public health. AQI values below 100 are generally thought of as satisfactory.
  • Listen to what your body is telling you. Pay attention to asthma or breathing problems that occur after being outdoors and discuss them with your health care provider.
  • Identify sources of air pollution in your community and choose where you live carefully. Work with community groups and lawmakers to keep our air clean.
  • Personally make a difference by using your car less often as cars are a major source of air pollution in the United States. Nationwide, 75 percent of carbon monoxide emissions come from motor vehicles. To keep your car’s emissions low, maintain your car properly and consider trading in an old clunker for a cleaner hybrid model.
  • Consolidate car trips by carpooling or choose clean alternatives, such as biking or walking. Your car will last longer, you’ll save money, and you’ll be doing the environment a big favor as well. For more healthy air tips, visit or