Raising the Flag for Air Quality Awareness

Last week, I joined security officer William Jones when he visited a group of students at the First Environments Day Care Center located on EPA’s Research Triangle Park campus. The purpose of our trip was to raise a yellow flag on the pole in front of the school.

When Officer Jones asked if the kids wanted to help him, they cheered in unison, “YES.”  They eagerly held the flag while Officer Jones hooked it to the chain, watched as he raised it – and promptly asked why the flag was yellow. Officer Jones explained that the yellow flag meant that the kids could play outside, “because the air quality was pretty good today– not the best like what a green flag means.”

Schools in a number of areas across the country are raising the colored flags to help their teachers and parents track EPA’s daily Air Quality Index (AQI). These flags help students and teachers know what the air quality forecast is for the day, and help them track whether students’ asthma symptoms get worse when the air is polluted and whether they need to take extra steps to protect their health.

Later this week, the Bethesda Elementary School in Durham, N.C. will launch its school flag program as part of Air Quality Awareness Week, marked every May to remind Americans to check the AQI forecast in planning outdoor activities. The school will fly an air quality flag along with the American flag each day.

When you see a green or yellow flag at school, it means that teachers and coaches will encourage students to get outside and get moving!  When the flag is orange or red, it is still OK to play outside, but kids are encouraged to cut back on activities that involve lots of running.  On those days, teachers and coaches will also make indoor exercise space available for children who need it.

The flags also help parents by reminding them of the day’s air quality forecast when they drop their children off at school, and assuring them that teachers will reduce their children’s exposure to air pollution, while ensuring they get important play and exercise time.

Don’t have a flag program at your school? It’s easy to start one.

About the author: Amy J. Gaskill, APR, works in the Innovative Programs and Outreach Group in EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning & Standards

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

New Picture Book Teaches Kids about Air Quality

By Melissa Payne

We’re big readers in our house. With two small children always looking for something to do, reading is easy, fun, and lets Mommy (and Daddy) sit down for a minute. Recently, we’ve started getting into books that correspond to the seasons- books about falling leaves in autumn, snow and holidays in the wintertime, and planting seeds in the spring. We can now add another season to our repertoire- ozone season- which lasts from May until October.

“Why is Coco Orange?” is a new book about a chameleon with asthma who can’t change colors. He and his friends at Lizard Lick Elementary solve this mystery as they learn about air quality and how to stay healthy and active when the air quality is a concern. This picture book explains the concept of ozone to young children in a way that they can understand. My kids keep coming back to this book, and find something new to learn every time.

Parents, teachers and other caretakers will learn along with the children as they read this story together. Schools, libraries, doctors’ offices, and families can take advantage of the book–it’s free to order your copy. With Earth Day (Friday, April 22) and Air Quality Awareness Week (May 2-6) coming up, now is the time to place your order. Celebrate the return of warmer weather with Coco and his healthy tips. Happy reading!

For more information on air quality, please visit airnow.gov

About the author: Melissa Payne has worked at EPA Headquarters since 1997, and currently works on air quality rule implementation.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Air Quality Awareness Week: Thanks, George

About the author: Alison Davis is Senior Adviser for Public Affairs in EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning & Standards in Research Triangle Park, NC.

With our weather in North Carolina getting suddenly hot, I’ve been thinking more about how air quality affects my daily plans. And I realized that I’d never learned the nitty-gritty of what goes in to that “Code Orange” forecast I get when air quality is expected to worsen.

image of George Bridgers, AQI forcaster, sitting at desk with his computerSo the other day, I stopped by the N.C. Division of Air Quality (DAQ) to see George. George (his last name is Bridgers) is one of four meteorologists at the DAQ who issue the daily air quality forecasts that tell me whether ozone levels might make me wheeze – or whether I’m in the clear.

From what I’ve picked up during my years at EPA, I know that forecasters at state and local agencies nationwide use weather models, information on pollution and their own experience to predict the next day’s ozone and particle pollution levels. So I went to see George figuring a forecast would take just an hour or two.

Boy, was I wrong.

“It starts from the moment I wake up,” George told me. “Are there storms I didn’t expect? Is the wind blowing? Is it sunny?”

Turns out George doesn’t just issue the next day’s forecast; he also spends time checking to see if yesterday’s forecast held overnight. If anything changed — weather conditions being the most likely — he might need to issue an update. Plus, what happened yesterday affects air quality tomorrow. During a period of stagnant weather, for example, pollution can build up over several days – and the forecast can go from yellow to orange to red.

Once George is satisfied that yesterday’s forecast was good, he starts looking at a long list of tools to develop tomorrow’s forecast. Weather forecast models. Satellite images. Air monitoring data. Models that estimate how pollution travels on the air. It’s an impressive list that reminds that me of just how much the nearly 300 air quality forecasters across the country have to understand in order issue AQI forecasts every day.

But I’m most struck by George’s dedication. He still remembers sweating it out over a code purple forecast he issued years ago, for example – and how worried he was about getting it right.

So when you check your air quality forecast (and you will, right?), know that in nearly every state, there are people like George, using science, experience and dedication to help you protect your health.

April 27 – May 1 is Air Quality Awareness Week.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.