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The Devil We Know: How Understanding Air Pollution Helps People Get Outside and Breathe Easy

air pollution get outside

Many factors can increase pollution levels, but access to street-level air quality data can empower people to stay safe while outside.

A toxic mix of dust, dirt, gas, and/or smoke particles, air pollution drives many of us to stay indoors on even the nicest of summer days — and for good reason. When inhaled in high concentrations and over extended periods of time, polluted air can lead to asthma, cancer, heart disease, premature labor in pregnant women, and more. For patients with existing cases of heart disease and asthma, air pollution exacerbates current symptoms and induces flare ups.

But that’s not the extent of pollution’s reach — children are also at risk. Eighty percent of our alveoli (the small air sacs where oxygen is transferred from our lungs to our bloodstreams) develop between when we’re born and our early twenties, and excessive exposure to polluted air can stunt this development. This puts children and young adults at risk of health issues that will extend for their entire adult lives.

These serious risks notwithstanding, consumers don’t have to let pollution dictate their behaviors. With knowledge comes power, and a deep understanding of the air quality in the areas they frequent can empower consumers to seize control of their lives and enjoy the great outdoors. Real-time, hyperlocal, pollution data measured on a street-by-street level lets us know when it’s safe to head outside and when it’s time to shut the windows tight.

Why Location Matters for Air Pollution Safety

From those in rural areas where dusty farm roads and tractors abound, to those in cities brimming with factories and bumper-to-bumper traffic, it’s important for all consumers to stay abreast of pollution levels. A host of factors determine the prevalence and composition of pollution within a community, and the complexity of this interplay means air quality can change drastically on a daily and even hourly basis.

For example, last year, the smoke produced by the raging wildfires in Northern California catapulted Sacramento and San Francisco to the top of Berkeley Earth’s “Most Polluted Cities” list for a day, putting the two cities’ more than 924,500 asthma and 613,000 heart disease patients in serious jeopardy.

Local weather also plays a major part in pollution levels. Depending on the community, rainy days can mean less pollution if certain particles and pollutants are washed away or more pollution if pollen is prevalent. Bright, sunny days can lead to chemical reactions in pollutants that cause smog, while heavy winds have been known to shift pollution from one town to the next over a matter of hours.

From a seasonal perspective, many consumers associate summer heat with high levels of pollution. While heat waves do trap pollutants, air quality actually tends to be worse in the winter because of temperature inversion — when cold air keeps pollution close to the ground — and the fact that many families turn to wood burning stoves and fireplaces to stay warm.

Taking Action

Air quality is an unpredictable beast, making it hard for consumers to know when it’s safe to cast open the windows or enjoy outdoor activities. But consumers needn’t resign themselves to falling victim to pollution’s unpredictability. Real-time air quality data helps patients, parents, athletes, and the elderly make informed decisions so they can step outside without hesitation or fear.

As air quality awareness efforts gain momentum, a growing number of consumers are demanding access to regular updates on pollution levels in their neighborhoods. Spreading the message about air pollution’s effects doesn’t have to cause fear and alarm. Rather, it can be a source of empowerment — knowing exactly when and where it’s safe to spend time outside helps people enjoy more fresh air and sunshine, not less.

Ultimately, it’s in everyone’s best interest to make this information widely available. In fact, products, services, and apps equipped with minute-by-minute air quality data experience a 2.4 percent increase in engagement on average. As such, as they strive to stay relevant in increasingly competitive and fast-paced markets, it’s imperative for companies operating in a variety of sectors to take the powerful role air quality data plays in consumers’ daily lives seriously.

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