Air Quality Awareness Week: How Clean is Your Air?

A view of haze over Mexico City. (AP Photo)
A view of haze over Mexico City. (AP Photo)

This article originally was published on on May 4, 2016.

This week is Air Quality Awareness Week. At the State Department we recognize that clean air is an essential issue to people around the world. That is why this Air Quality Awareness week, we are pleased to join the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Park Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as other U.S. government agencies and partners in a joint effort to increase awareness of the health impacts of poor air quality and reiterate the United States’ commitment to reducing its contribution to air pollution.

As Secretary of State John Kerry has said, “Environmental challenges like climate change, overfishing, the acidification of our oceans, air pollution – none of these challenges respect international borders. They injure us all, however. They affect people everywhere.”

The effects of these challenges are tangible to people around the world. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) data, for example, shows that in 2012 one in eight deaths worldwide — seven million people — were a result of air pollution exposure. More than half of these deaths were attributable to outdoor air pollution. What is more concerning is those statistics do not capture the full scope of the problem. In many of the world’s most polluted places, high quality, real-time air quality data is not available.


Partnering with the EPA, the Department of State is working towards increasing the availability of this critical data through placing monitors at U.S. diplomatic posts in countries where air quality data is unavailable.

Thirteen U.S. embassies and consulates are already online and reporting data on EPA’s AirNow platform. Twenty-four posts are expected to be online by the fall of 2016. The platform shows the data using EPA’s Air Quality Index, but the public can also download historical raw data or pull an RSS feed. The multiple ways to access the data enables research, app development, and social media sharing.

The monitors are reporting data for particulate matter 2.5 microns in size, or thirty times smaller than the width of a human hair. These small particles can cause damage to your lungs, stymie development, and cause extreme health issues.

Knowing the quality of your air can help you decide when to spend time outdoors. It can also help city and national governments create and track policies aimed at reducing air pollution.

The Department of State’s program has already simulated new partnerships, research ideas, and exchanges around the world. One important part of the program is a new fellowship that will allow U.S. air quality experts to partner with an embassy or consulate overseas to help exchange knowledge with U.S. personnel and interested host governments. This summer the first class of program fellows will be named.

This Air Quality Awareness Week, we encourage you to take action to show that you care about the air. Here are a few ways you can get involved:

  • Go to the EPA’s AirNow platform and take a look at your local air quality.
  • Stay up to date on your local air quality by downloading an air quality app.
  • Harness your role as a global citizen by taking actions that reduce pollution, such as biking rather than driving.
  • Use #careforyourair on social media to follow the conversation.

About the Author: Caroline D’Angelo serves as Eco-Management Analyst for the Greening Diplomacy Initiative in the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation at the U.S. Department of State.

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