Unhealthy Air Quality in the U.S. Pacific Northwest

orange sky, poor city air quality

As fires plague the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, residents in the area must be particularly cautious when spending time outdoors due to poor air quality. As Dr. Liz Joy points out in a previous Fitness Index blog post:

There is incontrovertible evidence linking poor air quality to adverse health outcomes. This is especially true for people with pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, stroke, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. However, healthy people are at risk too. Exposure to air pollution has been linked to a higher risk of developing asthma, and recent studies have identified links between air pollution and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

You have likely seen eerie images on social media and the news of orange skies, particularly in the Bay Area of California. A healthy air quality index (AQI) range for any given day is a score between 0-50. Today’s (Friday, September 11, 2020) score in San Francisco, CA, is in the 200 range, which is considered “Unhealthy” to “Very Unhealthy” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In this AQI range, everyone may experience mild to serious health effects, and members of sensitive groups (those with lung/heart disease, older adults, children and teens) are more likely to experience serious health effects. Download the airnow.gov app for your smart phone or visit www.airnow.gov, and review the AQI for your local area.

What is poor air quality?

The EPA measures the quality of ambient air for five major air pollutants that affect health and are regulated by the Clean Air Act. These are:

  1. Ground-level ozone
  2. Particle pollution (a.k.a. particulate matter)
  3. Carbon monoxide
  4. Sulfur dioxide
  5. Nitrogen dioxide

The current air quality dangers in the Pacific Northwest are fueled by wildfires. According to the EPA:

Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic materials burn. The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles. These microscopic particles can penetrate deep into your lungs. They can cause a range of health problems, from burning eyes and a runny nose to aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases. Exposure to particle pollution is even linked to premature death.

Learn more about how smoke from fires can affect your health in this post from the EPA.

Learn more and resources

Check out these ACSM and American Fitness Index original resources on air quality:

  • ACSM Viewpoint on climate change and active transportation – mentions air pollution and high ozone
  • ACSM.org blog on indoor air quality to promote PA in vulnerable populations
  • Fitness Index blog on outside air quality and PA

Learn more and stay active at home:


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