With spring burning season underway, the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department (LLCHD) encourages local residents to monitor the Air Quality Index (AQI) to determine if levels of smoke in the air are unhealthy.
Over the next six to eight weeks, smoke from controlled burning across the Flint Hills of Kansas and Oklahoma may cause elevated smoke levels in Lincoln and Lancaster County. Widespread drought conditions throughout the central and western U.S. have also increased the risk of wildfires.
Smoke from controlled burning and wildfires can cause health issues, especially for children, older adults and those with asthma, lung disease, other respiratory conditions or heart disease. Those at risk are encouraged to check the AQI before doing any strenuous activities outdoors, take plenty of breaks and watch for symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or chest pain.
The LLCHD monitors air quality 24 hours a day, and the Air Quality Index (AQI) at airnow.gov is updated hourly. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also provides AirNow and SmokeSense smart phone applications to help people stay informed of the AQI in their area.
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The air quality levels are color-coded on the AQI chart as follows:
• AQI values below 100 (green or yellow) are not expected to cause health problems for the vast majority of people.
• AQI values between 101 and 150 (orange) indicate that air quality is unhealthy for sensitive individuals. People with asthma should follow their asthma action plans and have quick relief medicine readily available. Children, older adults and those with heart or lung disease should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion during outdoor activities.
• AQI values higher than 150 (red, purple and maroon) indicate that air quality is unhealthy for all people. Outdoor activities should be moved indoors or rescheduled to a time when air quality will be better. Children, older adults and people with asthma or heart or lung disease should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion during outdoor activities. All others should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion during outdoor activities and take more breaks during those activities.
When air quality is unhealthy, those at risk can further protect their health by staying indoors, keeping windows and doors closed, using a HEPA filter and using the recirculate setting when using a vehicle air conditioner. Those who experience difficulty breathing, coughing, unusual fatigue, heart palpitations, tightness in the chest or angina should contact a medical care provider.
For more information on LLCHD, visit lincoln.ne.gov/health.