Air Quality Guide for Particle Pollution

Harmful particle pollution is one of our nation’s most common air pollutants. Use the chart below to help reduce your exposure and protect your health. For your local air quality forecast, visit

View or print guide in PDF (2 pp., 68KB, about PDF)

Air Quality Index Who Needs to be Concerned? What Should I Do?
It’s a great day to be active outside.
Some people who may be unusually sensitive to particle pollution. Unusually sensitive people: Consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion. Watch for symptoms such as coughing or shortness of breath. These are signs to take it easier.

Everyone else: It’s a good day to be active outside.
Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups
Sensitive groups include people with heart or lung disease, older adults, children and teenagers. Sensitive groups: Reduce prolonged or heavy exertion. It’s OK to be active outside, but take more breaks and do less intense activities. Watch for symptoms such as coughing or shortness of breath.

People with asthma should follow their asthma action plans and keep quick relief medicine handy.

If you have heart disease: Symptoms such as palpitations, shortness of breath, or unusual fatigue may indicate a serious problem. If you have any of these, contact your heath care provider.
151 to 200
Everyone Sensitive groups: Avoid prolonged or heavy exertion. Move activities indoors or reschedule to a time when the air quality is better.

Everyone else: Reduce prolonged or heavy exertion. Take more breaks during all outdoor activities.
Very Unhealthy
Everyone Sensitive groups: Avoid all physical activity outdoors. Move activities indoors or reschedule to a time when air quality is better.

Everyone else: Avoid prolonged or heavy exertion. Consider moving activities indoors or rescheduling to a time when air quality is better.
Everyone Everyone: Avoid all physical activity outdoors.

Sensitive groups: Remain indoors and keep activity levels low. Follow tips for keeping particle levels low indoors.

Note: Values above 500 are considered Beyond the AQI. Follow recommendations for the Hazardous category. Additional information on reducing exposure to extremely high levels of particle pollution is available here.


  Key Facts to Know About Particle Pollution:

  • Particle pollution can cause serious health problems – including asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes and early death.

  • Particle pollution can be a problem at any time of the year, depending on where you live.

  • You can reduce your exposure to pollution and still get exercise! Use daily Air Quality Index (AQI) forecasts at to plan your activity.

What is particle pollution?

Particle pollution comes from many different types of sources. Fine particles (2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller) include power plants, industrial processes, vehicle tailpipes, woodstoves, and wildfires. Coarse particles (between 2.5 and 10 micrometers) come from crushing and grinding operations, road dust, and some agricultural operations.

Why is particle pollution a problem?

Particle pollution is linked to a number of health problems, including coughing, wheezing, reduced lung function, asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes. It also is linked to early death.

Do I need to be concerned?

While it’s always smart to pay attention to air quality where you live, some people may be at greater risk from particle pollution. They include:

  • People with cardiovascular disease (diseases of the heart and blood vessels)

  • People with lung disease, including asthma and COPD

  • Children and teenagers

  • Older adults

  • Research indicates that obesity or diabetes may increase risk.

  • New or expectant mothers may also want to take precautions to protect the health of their babies.

How can I protect myself?

Use AQI forecasts to plan outdoor activities. On days when the AQI forecast is unhealthy, take simple steps to reduce your exposure:

  • Choose a less-strenuous activity

  • Shorten your outdoor activities

  • Reschedule activities

  • Spend less time near busy roads

When particle levels are high outdoors, they can be high indoors – unless the building has a good filtration system.

Keep particles lower indoors:

Can I help reduce particle pollution?

Yes! Here are a few tips.

  • Drive less: carpool, use public transportation, bike or walk

  • Choose ENERGY STAR appliances

  • Set thermostats higher in summer and lower in winter

  • Don’t burn leaves, garbage, plastic or rubber

  • Keep car, boat and other engines tuned

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Office of Air and Radiation (6301A)
August, 2015

This page was last updated on Tuesday, January 26, 2016