How do you know if you’re breathing clean air? Often you don’t, without access to air quality data.
Years ago, U.S. environmental researchers figured out ways to collect that data and make it constantly available to people deciding whether an asthmatic child can play outdoors or an elderly person should take a walk.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State Department want people in other countries also to have access to this data so they can make good health decisions and learn more about the importance of air quality.
EPA launched AirNow-International in Shanghai five years ago. A program startup is scheduled for India in the next few months with similar efforts will follow in Vietnam and Mongolia soon after. Secretary of State John Kerry made the announcement February 18.
“There’s another goal here as well, and it’s important,” Kerry said. “We’re hoping that this tool can also expand international cooperation when it comes to curbing air pollution.”
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy joined Kerry in the announcement, explaining that the Air Quality Index is calculated from soot and ozone levels gathered by 4,000 air quality monitoring stations in the United States and China.
Distribution of data collected in China has helped spark a wider understanding there of the connection between pollution and health. McCarthy described how she saw AirNow International gain public attention on a visit to Beijing.
There were “people all across Beijing popping that cell phone, seeing what the air quality data was, knowing that they could rely on it, knowing that the science was [providing an accurate analysis of the air quality of the moment].”
McCarthy said the AirNow program proves that “information and transparency empowers us to reduce health risks associated with air pollution.”