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EPA’s Air Quality Index Now Includes Fine Particle Pollution Forecasts in Major U.S. Cities - Particle Pollution Has Been Linked to Serious Health Problems

Release Date: 9/30/2003
Contact Information: Donna Heron, (215) 814-5113

Donna Heron, (215) 814-5113

PHILADELPHIA – Inhaling fine dust particles – specks so small that they can only be seen by a high-powered microscope – can lead to serious health problems.

Now residents in 36 U.S. cities – including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. – can check EPA’s Air Quality Index year-round to find out the daily levels of particle pollution at EPA’s website: This information is also available in USA Today and on the Weather Channel.

EPA’s Air Quality Index is the same color-coded tool used to forecast ozone pollution levels in cities all across the U.S.

Knowing when fine particle pollution has reached unhealthy levels can help people take the necessary steps to protect themselves such as decreasing strenuous outdoor activity. Taking a walk, for example, instead of going for a jog.

Particle pollution refers to a mixture of microscopic solids and liquid droplets found in the air. The particles come in a wide range of sizes. Those less than 10 micrometers can get into the lungs, potentially causing serious health problems.

“The addition of fine particle pollution forecasts to EPA’s Air Quality Index will help millions of people protect their health, especially people with heart and lung disease, older adults and children,” said EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Donald S. Welsh.

Welsh will discuss the local effects of particle pollution and the new forecast at an October 3 meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Asthma Initiative (MARAI) at the Franklin Institute. A press conference, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., will precede the quarterly meeting. Members of MARAI, include a wide range of professionals who have a special interest in airborne particles because this is a major trigger for asthma attacks.

Dalton Paxman, regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is also scheduled to address the October 3 meeting and will speak about the health risks of inhaling fine particle pollution.

Some of particles can get deep into the lungs, where they can affect both the lungs and the heart. Particle pollution as been linked to asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, changes in heart rate, arrhythmias and heart attacks, among other health problems.

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

Fine particles come from all types of combustion, including motor vehicles, power plants, residential wood burning, forest fires, agricultural burning and some industrial processes. Larger dust particles come from dust stirred up by vehicles traveling on roads and from crushing and grinding operations.

For more information about particle pollution and EPA’s efforts to clear the air, go to



Radio Editor's Note: An EPA audio file containing three short sound bites on this topic is available in mp3. See our new radio news webpage