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Making the Grade: How Outdoor and Indoor Air Quality is Measured

Having clean air to breathe is essential for our health. Poor air quality can cause various health problems from minor irritations such as coughing and sneezing to more serious conditions like asthma, lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Long-term exposure to polluted air can also lead to chronic diseases such as COPD and increase the risk of respiratory infections. In addition to respiratory health, air quality both indoors and outdoors also impacts our overall well-being. Bad air quality can lead to headaches, fatigue, and other symptoms that can affect our ability to concentrate and perform our day-to-day tasks which can negatively impact our mental health and lead to stress and anxiety. 

When you consider the numerous negative side effects that come with air quality, you may be wondering what actually constitutes ‘bad’ and ‘good’ air quality. How is air quality measured? What are the current air quality standards? And what steps can we take to go from a poor air quality environment to a healthier one both outdoors and inside our homes and places of work? 

Image of iPhone's indoor air quality index

Apple’s iPhone Air Quality Index

Outdoor Air Quality: AQI and How it is Measured

Have you ever been looking at the weather on your smartphone application and come across a rainbow-colored bar which tells you the air quality in your location? This multicoloured bar is actually referring to the Air Quality Index (AQI) for your locality. The Air Quality Index is the standard that the Environmental Protection Agency measures and reports air quality in different regions of the United States. The AQI is measured by how polluted the air is and is calculated by measuring the presence of the five major air pollutants: ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. 

Think of the AQI as a measuring stick that runs from 0 to 500. The higher the AQI value, the greater the pollutants have been detected, and therefore the greater risk to health. To calculate AQI, the concentration of the five major pollutants is measured by air quality monitors located throughout a region. The concentration of the pollutants is then compared to the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) which was put in place by the Clean Air Act in 1990. For each pollutant, the highest concentration measured over a specific time period (usually 24 hours) is used to determine the AQI value. The value for each pollutant is then calculated using a formula that takes into account the concentration of the pollutant, the NAAQS for the pollutant, and the AQI breakpoints

The AQI breakpoints for each pollutant are based on the health effects associated with exposure to that specific pollutant. Once the values for each pollutant are calculated, the highest value is reported for that region and shown on a color-coded scale which you typically see on the weather app on your phone. The scale ranges from green (good) all the way to maroon (hazardous). The AQI for your region is always a good thing to keep in mind, especially when you plan on spending a significant amount of time outdoors. 

Image of Air Quality Index - Particulate Matter Legend with Colors

How is Indoor Air Quality Measured? 

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is also an important thing to consider. As a species, we have continued to spend more and more time indoors. Most of us likely spend most of our days inside, leading us to question how the air within our homes, schools, and workplaces is being monitored and measured. Many factors affect IAQ including poor ventilation, problems controlling temperature, humidity, and activities within or near the building or home that can affect the fresh air coming into the building. 

Indoor Air Quality can be measured using various methods and instruments including: 

  1. Indoor Air Quality Meters: Devices that measure parameters of air quality such as temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, etc. indoors. 
  2. Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detectors: Devices that detect and report CO which is a toxic gas.
  3. Radon Detectors: Radon is a radioactive gas that is naturally occurring and can seep into buildings through cracks in the foundation. Long-term exposure to Radon has been known to increase the risk of lung cancer. 

IAQ testing is typically performed by trained professionals who conduct air quality assessments. These assessments may involve taking air samples, conducting a visual inspection, and reviewing building and ventilation systems information. The results of these tests can help identify sources of pollution and help you strategize to improve air quality in your building or home. 

How do I Monitor and Improve Air Quality in my Home or Building?

There are several ways in which you can take steps to improve the air quality in your home or building. Overall, improving the quality of the air you are breathing indoors can have significant benefits on your respiratory health and general well-being. 

A good place to begin your journey to cleaner air is to ensure the air filters in your home or building are routinely checked and changed with high-quality filters. In order to catch other remaining pollutants in your air, you might consider the WYND Max Smart Room Air Purifier which contains 2x HEPA filter and can remove roughly 99.7% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and other small airborne particles from a 1200 sq ft space within 30 minutes. 

WYND's Indoor Air Quality Solutions in Office building

To ensure the best indoor air quality possible in your office building, you may consider WYND’s Indoor Air Quality Solutions for business. The system uses the WYND Halo air monitoring system combined with Max purifiers to correctly detect and identify specific particles in the air and clean as needed. These products also have the ability to work with a building’s current HVAC system to help reduce energy consumption and associated costs. Don’t wait to start improving your indoor air quality – contact WYND today to learn more about their products and services.

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