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Air Quality Index Forecasts Now Available Year-Round: EPA, Major U.S. Cities Now Predicting Particle Pollution Level

Release Date: 09/30/2003
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(#03114) New York, N.Y. -- As part of its continued efforts to protect the American public from air pollution, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), working with state and local governments, will make forecasts of particle pollution available in major U.S. cities year-round, EPA Acting Administrator Marianne Horinko announced today.

"Particle pollution is the most serious air quality issue our nation is facing today, and the Bush Administration is working diligently to reduce this harmful pollution across the country," Horinko said."At the same time, Air Quality Index forecasts will help millions of people protect their health especially people with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children."

The Air Quality Index, or AQI, is EPA's color-coded tool to inform the public about daily air pollution levels in their communities. In the 1990's, EPA, in collaboration with state and local governments, began forecasting levels of ozone pollution for cities all across the U.S. Beginning today, residents of dozens of U.S. cities will also be able to check daily forecasts for particle pollution. The forecasts are provided by state and local air agencies in addition to EPA, on the Internet and through local television broadcasts.

"Particle pollution" refers to a mixture of microscopic solids and liquid droplets found in the air. Particles can be emitted directly (such as those in smoke); others form when gases react in the atmosphere. Particle pollution comes from a number of sources, including cars and trucks, industry, fires, and power plants.

Very fine particles, measuring 2.5 microns, can get deep into the lungs, where they can affect both the lungs and the heart. Particle pollution has been linked to asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, changes in heart rate, arrhythmias and heart attacks, among other health problems.

In 2002, monitors in New Jersey showed 13 "orange" days with fine particulate readings at the level that is unhealthy for sensitive groups and two "red" days with particulate readings at the level deemed unhealthy for the entire population. In New York State, monitoring stations for particulates found 23"orange" days and five "red" or unhealthy air quality days.

For ozone readings, New Jersey monitoring stations in 2002 recorded 27 "orange" days, which meant the air was considered unhealthy for sensitive groups; 13 "red" days, on which air quality was deemed unhealthy for the general public; and five "purple" days, on which the air quality was very unhealthy for the general public. In New York State in 2002, air monitors for ozone recorded 29 "orange" days, 12"red" days of unhealthy air quality, and two "purple" days of very unhealthy air quality.

Although everyone's health can be at risk when particle pollution levels are high, some groups of people also are at risk at lower levels. Those groups include, people with heart or lung disease, older adults (men over 45 and women over 55), and children. AQI forecasts for fine particles include recommendations for simple changes in daily activities that can help people protect their health.

The Bush Administration is taking key steps toward reducing particle pollution through the Clear Skies Act of 2003, along with other EPA efforts, including new emission limits for nonroad vehicles and implementation of air quality standards for fine particles.

Particle pollution forecasts are available on local television stations, on state and local air quality agency Web sites, on USA Today's weather page and on The Weather Channel. Forecasts, health information and maps showing real-time particle levels also are available on EPA's AirNOW Web site, at