Top 10 things to know about air quality, that thing that goes wrong

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Brittany, Normandy and even Île-de-France: air quality is deteriorating in many French regions, with the onset of high temperatures. We quickly realized that it wasn’t a very funny thing, given the communications campaigns based on the color red, “WARNING” written in capital letters, and “danger” pictograms all over the place, but that is that exactly? What to do when it happens? Is it really dangerous?

1. What is the daily air quality indicator?

The air quality index is called the “ATMO index” for agglomerations with more than 100,000 inhabitants. For the other agglomerations, we simply speak of the “air quality index”, abbreviated by “AQI”. In both cases, these indices, providing daily summary information on atmospheric pollution, are calculated in the same way.

2. How is it calculated?

The calculation of the air quality index is done according to a national standard, in order to be able to easily compare the air quality of one French city to another. The calculation is made every day, by studying the concentration of the 3 main atmospheric pollutants: atmospheric particles (PM10), ozone (03), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and can also take into account two additional pollutants: sulfur dioxide (SO2) and carbon monoxide (CO).

3. During a heat wave, the quality deteriorates

With the arrival of summer and high temperatures, it is not uncommon to be alerted to significant pollution peaks. The cause: molecules of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) react under the effect of the sun’s rays to create ozone. The stronger the sun, the greater the amount of ozone in the atmosphere, and therefore… Bad air quality.

4. Polluted air is responsible for millions of deaths every year

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 7 million people die prematurely each year due to air pollution. That works out to 800 people per hour or 13 per minute. That’s more than three times the number of people who die of malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS combined each year. On the scale of France, approximately 100,000 deaths per year are attributed to it.

5. … and is particularly harmful to children

Worldwide, 93% of children breathe air in which concentrations of pollutants far exceed those that the WHO considers safe for health. 600,000 children die prematurely each year due to air pollution. Exposure to this air also harms brain development and puts the youngest at a significant risk of chronic disease.

6. What to do in case of air pollution?

There are specific cases for pregnant women, the sick or even children. As far as the general population is concerned, here are the indications given by the authorities when the air quality is too low: in the event of respiratory or cardiac discomfort, seek advice from a health professional; favor shorter outings and those that require the least effort; In the event of pollution episodes with pollutants PM10, NO2, SO2: reduce, or even postpone, intense physical and sporting activities (including competitions).

7. Is it necessary to ventilate?

During episodes of air pollution, normal ventilation and aeration practices should not be changed. Apart from specific situations such as industrial accidents, it is not necessary to confine oneself. On the contrary. Ventilation will reduce air pollution from inside (linked to materials, paint, tobacco, candles, etc.).

8. Air quality is better in the morning

Quite simply, because the traffic, much calmer than the rest of the day, does not yet affect the air quality. It is also during these times that it is advisable to exercise, during episodes of pollution.

9. Poor air quality does not always mean peak pollution

Since January 2021, an air quality index qualified as poor is no longer systematically associated with a pollution episode situation. It is therefore normal that the procedure for managing a pollution episode is not triggered at each bad indicator.

10. The right to clean air is a human right

On the one hand, there is the “right to a healthy environment” which enjoys constitutional status in more than 100 countries. On the other hand, there is the ‘right to clean air’ which is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and enshrined in the objectives of sustainable development.

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