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Why Air Quality Is Important

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), issues daily air quality forecast guidance as part of a national Air Quality Forecasting Capability. Air quality has improved significantly since the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970; however, there are still many areas of the country where the public is exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollutants and sensitive ecosystems are damaged by air pollution. Poor air quality is responsible for an estimated 60,000 premature deaths in the United States each year. Costs from air pollution-related illness are estimated at $150 billion per year. The goal of the U.S. air quality program is to provide ozone, particulate matter and other pollutant forecasts the public can use to limit the harmful effects of poor air quality. Our goal is to save and improve lives and reduce the number of air quality-related asthma attacks; eye, nose, and throat irritation; heart attacks and other respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

Risks Related to Ground Level Ozone

Ground-level ozone (O3) is a product of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of heat and sunlight. Motor vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents are among the major sources of NOx and VOCs responsible for harmful buildup of ground-level ozone. Even at low concentrations, ozone can trigger a variety of health problems such as lung irritation and inflammation, asthma attacks, wheezing, coughing, and increased susceptibility to respiratory illnesses.

Risks Related to Particulate Matter

Particulate matter (PM), or airborne particles, includes dust, dirt, soot, and smoke. Some particles are directly emitted into the air by cars, trucks, buses factories, construction sites and wood burning to name a few examples. Other particles are formed in the air when gases from burning fuels react with sunlight and water vapor. Such gases, from incomplete combustion in motor vehicles, at power plants and in other industrial processes, contribute indirectly to particulate pollution. This pollution can cause chronic bronchitis, asthma attacks, decreased lung function, coughing, painful breathing, cardiac problems and heart attacks, as well as a variety of serious environmental impacts such as acidification of lakes and streams and nutrient depletion in soils and water bodies.