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Air pollution: What is a code red air quality alert? How to protect yourself

While the US and Canada generally enjoy relatively good air quality, massive wildfires are blanketing both countries and causing high levels of pollution.

What is a code red air quality alert?

Smoke from raging wildfires in Canada are creating serious air pollution problems for millions of residents on both sides of the border. Swiss firm IQAir, which keeps a list of the most polluted cities in the world, put Chicago as Number 1 on Tuesday. New York got the dishonor on 7 June when the skies over the Big Apple turned a disquieting orange.

The haze blanketing large swaths of both Canada and the United States will fortunately blow away eventually. But with hundreds of fires still burning there is a good chance that it will be back. You can track where the smoke is predicted to be on the BlueSky Canada smoke forecast.

Whether air quality is poor or satisfactory, the US Air Quality Index (AQI) gives a report for localities across the nation. This has different colours depending on the quality with “Code Maroon,” “Code Purple,” or “Code Red” air quality alerts.

How air quality codes are measured

A Code Red air quality alert is a designation used to indicate a severe level of air pollution. An AQI “Code Red Fine Particles Action Day” is declared when the value index is between 151 to 200, meaning the air is unhealthy to breathe.

In general, a Code Red air quality alert is triggered when the concentration of pollutants in the air reaches a level that poses significant health risks, particularly for individuals who are sensitive to air pollution. This can include people with respiratory conditions, the elderly, children, and individuals with compromised immune systems.

“Red” isn’t the most dangerous level as “Purple” means the quality is “very unhealthy” and is a health risk for everyone, while “Maroon” is hazardous.

How to protect yourself in a red quality rating

During a Code Red alert, people are advised to take precautionary measures to protect their health. This may include staying indoors, closing windows, using air purifiers, and avoiding physical exertion outdoors.

If you have to go outside then options include wearing a N95 face mask or respirator mask which covers both your mouth and nose.