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DES MOINES — As temperatures warm and Iowans head outdoors, they can usually count on good air quality. In fact, Iowa’s air quality has significantly improved. Since 1990, sulfur dioxide emission have decreased by 60 percent and nitrogen oxides are down 43 percent, while the number of emission sources, the population and the number of industries have increased.
The DNR encourages residents to celebrate air quality improvements during Air Quality Awareness Week, May 2 to 6, and to learn more about their air.
While there is much to celebrate, there are days when local air quality could pose health risks to sensitive populations.
Just two weeks ago, air quality in western Iowa deteriorated as fires in Kansas’ Flint Hills blew smoke northeast into the Omaha area. Some Iowans along the Missouri River noticed the haze. If they had checked the Air Quality Index, they would have noticed some yellow and orange areas.
Checking www.iowadnr.gov/aqi is easy. The color-coded map estimates health effects associated with current levels of ozone and particulate matter. While it was mostly green on April 13, indicating good air quality, yellow and orange colors showed moderate to unhealthy air in western and southeast Iowa.
The orange areas caution sensitive groups like the elderly, children and those with heart or lung diseases to limit strenuous outdoor activities. As temperatures climb, ozone levels begin to rise, too. This colorless gas is most likely to affect those who love outdoor activities or work outdoors, because the more active they are, the faster and deeper they breathe, and the more ozone they inhale.
So, while unhealthy air doesn’t happen often, it pays to check air quality before planning outdoor activities.
Find out more about air quality trends and real time monitoring data at www.iowadnr.gov/airmonitoring.
For current levels of ozone, particulate, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, check the Polk County, Linn County and State Hygienic Laboratory websites:
Some large cities also forecast air quality. Find these forecasts at www.airnow.gov. To see the forecast for the Omaha-Council Bluffs area, search the state of Nebraska, and then choose Omaha.