AIRE: Atmospheric Information Resource for Educators and students

How to protect yourself and your family from air pollution

This article was written by Prof. V. Faye McNeill and her colleague, Dr. Julia Nunes. It gives details on ways to protect yourself and your family from the effects of air pollution. It is the first in a set of articles. The next article in the series will break down air pollution data from across India, demonstrating that most Indians are exposed to unhealthy air for much of the year.

Image: Smog in the Delhi/NCR area. Photo credit: Jesse Rabek.


Air quality action day!

It’s hot as the Dickens and it’s an air quality action day in the New York city area and in much of the Northeast. Skies are currently blue but the air quality index is in the ‘Unsafe for Sensitive Groups’ range. This plus the super hot weather makes for dangerous conditions for asthmatics, the elderly, and other sensitive groups.  So do your best to chill out indoors this weekend!

NYC Air Quality – Improving? AIRE reports!

AII Air Quality NYC - US letter _Page_03ccording to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, air quality in NYC is getting better.  Here at AIRE, we hypothesized the opposite last summer.  Based on a very unscientific survey of our own asthma responses and perceptions of visibility in the city, we suspected that summertime air quality had been on the decline in recent years (2014-2015).  To test this hypothesis, summer undergraduate researcher Silvia Vina Lopez gathered Air Quality Index (AQI) data for NYC from 2000-2015, and data on criteria pollutant (SO2, CO, NO2, O3, PM) concentrations from 9 NYSDEC monitoring sites around the five boroughs. Here are some highlights of her findings:

  • Overall, air quality has been improving since 2000.  Importantly, there has clearly been a steady decrease in the number of “bad air days”. Since 2000, the number of days categorized as “Unhealthy for sensitive groups,” “Unhealthy,” or “Very unhealthy” has been on the decline.
  • Since 2008, the number of “Good” air quality days has had an overall upward trend, but there indeed has been a sharp decrease in “Good” days since 2013.  Since “Moderate” air quality is also pretty good in the big scheme of things, this trend may be subtle to perceive as you’re walking the streets of NYC unless you have asthma (like us) or think about PM 2.5 a lot (also like us).

II Air Quality NYC - US letter _Page_04To dig deeper into these trends, Silvia investigated the frequency with which each criteria pollutant exceeded the 24 h NAAQS standards. She found that SO2 violations decreased between 2004-2009 and have stayed low. The City attributes this trend to changes in heating oil regulations. On the other hand, the frequency of PM2.5 violations increased over the same time period and has remained elevated since 2009. This value decreased somewhat between 2007-2015, consistent with the data presented in the City’s survey, which covered 2008-2014. However, the average number of PM2.5 violations 2009-2015 was still significantly higher than 2000-2005.

The verdict: air quality in NYC is not bad and getting better in general.  However, work needs to be done to reduce PM2.5 violations, and hold on to the gains made between 2008-2014.  One possible source of elevated PM2.5 not mentioned in the City’s report is secondary organic aerosol formation: the formation of PM2.5 in situ, due to gas-phase reactions of oxidants and volatile organic compounds (which can be natural or man-made).

¿Contribuye la contaminación del aire a la obesidad de los niños?

por Silvia Vina Lopez

El proyecto Infancia i Medi Ambient (INMA) en Cataluña está investigando la hipótesis de que las emisiones de los coches propicien la gordura.

Hoy en día, Barcelona supera el nivel máximo permitido de NO2, debido al tráfico, en el aire. Es posible que NO2 es un “interruptor endocrino” que causa un desorden hormonal que hace acumular grasas. Este estudio se centra en la influencia del NO2 en el desarrollo y la salud de los fetos y los niños de corta edad, dado que la contaminación resta capacidad de aprendizaje a los menores.

Los compuestos químicos de las emisiones del tráfico son solubles en grasas lo que facilita que se acumulen con facilidad y permanezcan durante mucho tiempo en el ambiente y las personas. El Centro de Recerca Epidemiológica Ambiental (CREAL) ya demostró que los menores que viven en las zonas más contaminadas sufren de una alteración en la atención y memoria de trabajo.

Más información en el siguiente artículo:

Recommended Resource: “What’s Up in the Atmosphere? Exploring Colors in the Sky,” an aerosols storybook from The GLOBE Program

Scientists and educators from NASA and UCAR have written a storybook entitled “What’s Up in the Atmosphere? Exploring Colors in the Sky” aimed at elementary school-aged (K-4) children, in which atmospheric aerosols play a starring role.  The story follows a group of curious students who, under the guidance of their teacher, investigate the connection between the appearance of the sky and asthma symptoms in their fellow students on a given day.  The students in the story (and the readers) learn about atmospheric aerosols in the process.  The storybook includes a teachers’ guide with glossary.

From the mailbag: What are Ozone Action Days and why should we care?

Question: An alert on my smartphone told me today is an Ozone Action Day.  What is that and how does it affect me? – D.E., New York, NY

Answer: An Ozone Action Day is a day when the concentration of ozone gas in a particular area is predicted to be higher than healthy levels. Ozone Action Days generally coincide with high Air Quality Index days.  Ozone is one of the main urban air pollutants that we regulate, due to its potential negative impacts on human health, alone or in combination with other pollutants such as particulate matter.  Ozone can irritate the lungs and cause respiratory symptoms, especially in sensitive groups such as children,  the elderly, and those with respiratory problems such as asthma or COPD.

On Ozone Action Days it is generally a good idea to avoid exercise outdoors if possible.  Children’s outdoor play time should be limited on those days, especially for children with asthma.  You can do your part to help keep ozone levels down on Ozone Action Days by taking measures to reduce your emissions of NOx and volatile organic compounds (VOCs): limit electricity use and use of gasoline vehicles.

From the mailbag: “What are the health effects of pollution on humans?”

Question: What are the health effects of pollution on humans? – L.I., Miami, FL

Answer: Poor air quality primarily affects the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. According to the EPA, exposure to particulate matter and ozone is associated with aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function, irregular heartbeat, heart attack, and premature death in people with heart or lung disease. For more information, see this site on the health effects of air pollution, maintained by Health Canada 

Recommended Resource: Aerosol Science & Engineering

In honor of the 2014 Annual meeting of the American Association for Aerosol Research, happening this week in Orlando, FL,  we are very excited to share with you this series of educational modules on the science and engineering of aerosols (airborne particles).

These materials were developed by Profs. Pratim Biswas, of Washington University St. Louis, and C. Y. Wu, of University of Florida, through a collaborative grant from the National Science Foundation. The modules are aimed at an introductory college level, and are excellent for supplementing course materials or learning on your own.

The modules:

The complete lecture series for an introductory course on Aerosol Science and Technology from WUStL is available FREE through ITunesU!:

Additional information on this effort, and more resources:


De la saca de correos: “Mi hija tiene asma. ¿De qué manera la contaminación del aire afecta a su salud?”

Pregunta: Mi hija tiene asma. ¿De qué manera la contaminación del aire afecta a su salud? – M.N., New York, NY

Respuesta: Las personas asmáticas son muy sensibles a los efectos de la contaminación del aire. Al respirar el aire contaminado, esto puede desencadenar o empeorar los síntomas del asma.  El ĺndice de Calidad del Aire (AQI) es una medida que nos dice que tan ‘saludable’ es el estado actual del aire que respiramos. El AQI se calcula por los niveles de unas sustancias presentes en el aire, las cuales pueden afectar la salud humana, por ejemplo el ozono y la materia particulada. Un nivel AQI sobre 101 no es saludable para la gente asmática, mientras que para los adultos con un buen estado de salud y sin asma, un nivel de AQI sobre 151 no es saludable.

La Prof. McNeill también tiene asma y en los días con alto AQI, ella no se siente bien y usa más el inhalador. Cuando ella estudiaba en la universidad Caltech, cerca de Los Angeles, la calidad del aire fue muy mala, peor que hoy, y esto la motivó a estudiar la química atmosférica.



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