Outdoor Air and Health

Children playing outdoors.

Most times air quality is excellent in New York State. However, at certain times air pollution can still affect millions of people in New York and nationwide. Outdoor air pollution has been linked to health problems like heart disease, asthma, and low birth weight.

Sometimes you can see air pollution, like smoke from a fire, a plume from a smokestack, or exhaust from a vehicle. You may notice a smell associated with certain air pollutants. Other times, you may first learn about unhealthy air quality from news or weather broadcasts. Like the weather, air pollution levels can change from day to day or within the same day.

When Outdoor Air is Unhealthy

  • Spend more time indoors. This is especially important for at-risk groups (“sensitive groups”), like children and teenagers, older adults, people with respiratory or heart problems, pregnant people, and those who exercise or work outdoors.
  • If it gets hot inside, cool off with air conditioning if you can. Find a place to get cool.
  • People who must spend time outdoors should take frequent breaks and adjust work or exercise schedules for when air conditions improve.
  • Schools, childcare and adult care facilities, employers and activities programs should plan for more indoor activities or reduce outdoor activities when air quality is unhealthy.
  • People with health symptoms should contact their health care provider.

Follow Air Quality Alerts

New York State alerts the public when the level of certain outdoor air pollutants is expected to be unhealthy. An Air Quality Alert is issued the day before or the same day for the region of the state affected. These alerts are often broadcast on the news or weather station. The alerts will define who is at risk or the “sensitive groups” based on the pollutant and actions you should take to reduce exposure to outdoor air pollutants. 

Air Quality Alerts will tell you:

  • The pollutant of concern
  • The AQI or rating of air quality from good to hazardous
  • Who is at risk
  • Actions to protect health when outdoor air is unhealthy
AQI Basics for Ozone and Particle Pollution
Air Quality Index Conditions Description of Air Quality
Green: 0 to 50 Good Good It's a great day to be outside.
Yellow: 51 to 100 Moderate Air quality is acceptable. However, there may be a risk for some people, particularly those who are unusually sensitive to air pollution.
Orange: 101 to 150 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is less likely to be affected.
Red: 151 to 200 Unhealthy for Everyone Some members of the general public may experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.
Purple: 201 to 300 Very Unhealthy Health alert: The risk of health effects is increased for everyone.
Maroon: 301-500 Hazardous Health warning of emergency conditions: everyone is more likely to be affected.

Sign up for EnviroFlash to be notified of Air Quality Alerts for your area. Or visit the New York State Air Quality Index (AQI) or airnow.gov.

In New York State, the most common Air Quality Alerts are for ozone and particle pollution.

Recommendations for Workers

  • Long work schedules and the physical demands of work performed outdoors can affect a worker’s health when air quality is unhealthy.
  • Take frequent breaks and talk to your employer about adjusting your work until air quality improves. Follow advice from NIOSH.

Recommendations for Schools and Child Care Providers

  • Continue to monitor air quality at airnow.gov.
  • Consider implementing an Air Quality Flag Program where each day your organization raises a flag when the air is unhealthy. On these days you can use this information to adjust outdoor activities.
  • New York State recommends that schools and child care providers suspend outdoor activities and field trips when air quality is unhealthy.
  • When air quality is good, resume normal activities.

More Information