California’s AQI Guidelines: Impact on Schools

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California’s AQI Guidelines: Impact on Schools

Published
Mar 13, 2024
Written by
Saba Arif

Sunshine, sweat, and…smog? Keeping student-athletes safe from the elements goes beyond just staying cool. Air quality can be a major game-changer, impacting everything from lung function to endurance. That’s why the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has implemented a series of Air Quality Guidelines for Schools based on the Air Quality Index (AQI).

Before you ask what these guidelines are, let’s try to understand what AQI is and why it matters so much, particularly in the context of schools and CIF sports.

What is the Air Quality Index?

The AQI measures the level of air pollution in an area. Think of it as a weather forecast for air, except it tells you how many pollutants are floating around in the air you breathe.

The AQI considers five major pollutants:

  • Ozone
  • Particulate Matter (PM2.5 and PM10)
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Nitrogen Dioxide
  • Sulfur Dioxide

Each pollutant is assigned a concentration value, and the highest value determines the overall AQI score.  The Air Quality Index’s numerical scale ranges from 0 to 500, reflecting the level of air pollution present.

There are six levels of AQI, with each level indicating the potential health impact and recommended actions:

  • Good (0-50): Air quality poses little to no health risk.
  • Moderate (51-100): Sensitive individuals may experience minor health effects.
  • Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (101-150): Children, older adults, and those with breathing issues might experience mild problems.
  • Unhealthy (151-200): Everyone may begin to experience health effects, and members of sensitive groups may experience more serious effects.
  • Very Unhealthy (201-300): Widespread health effects are likely among the general population, especially for sensitive groups who may experience serious effects.
  • Hazardous (301-500): Everyone faces the risk of experiencing health effects, and emergency measures may be necessary. 

This score is then translated into a color-coded system (green, yellow, orange, red, purple, and maroon) ranging from “Good” to “Hazardous”.

Air Quality Monitoring Policy Changes in California

As part of the Air Quality Guidelines for Schools, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has enforced the following across all schools in California:

  • Daily Monitoring: Schools should monitor the AQI throughout the day and publicly display the AQI.
  • Lower Thresholds for Activity Restrictions: Before, moderate exercise was restricted at an AQI index of 100 or above. The new guidelines lower this threshold to 50, significantly reducing outdoor activity when air quality begins to decrease.
  • When the AQI reaches moderate (yellow) or higher levels, schools should:
    • Reduce or reschedule strenuous outdoor activities, especially for sensitive individuals with asthma or respiratory concerns.
    • Provide indoor alternatives for physical activities.
    • Encourage students to take additional hydration breaks because of the potential for increased respiratory effort.
  • Focus on PM2.5: PM2.5, fine particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less, is a major health concern as it can penetrate deep into the lungs. The new guidelines impose stricter activity restrictions when PM2.5 levels are high.
  • Communication and Planning: Schools are encouraged to develop air quality action plans outlining procedures for monitoring air quality and adjusting outdoor activities based on AQI levels.

By giving you real-time air quality data, these guidelines empower you to make smart decisions to protect your students and staff.

Key Policy Changes

The latest AQI guidelines for schools are part of a broader effort to improve air quality across California.  Here are some key policy changes:

Enhanced Air Quality Monitoring: CARB is expanding air quality monitoring networks, particularly near sensitive locations like schools, to provide more accurate and localized data.
Emission Reduction Programs: California implements stricter vehicle emission standards and promotes electric vehicles to reduce tailpipe pollution, a significant contributor to air quality issues.
Industrial Regulations: Stricter regulations for industrial facilities are being implemented to control air pollutant emissions from factories and power plants, ensuring cleaner industrial practices and reduced pollution.

Impact on Schools and CIF Sports

The new AQI guidelines will significantly impact schools and their athletic programs, particularly during peak wildfire season when air quality can decline rapidly. Schools will need to adapt, moving practices or games indoors when AQI levels reach unhealthy ranges.

This will require flexibility and planning from coaches and athletic trainers as well as investment in air monitoring systems and communication channels to inform students, parents, and staff about potential risks. 

Air Quality Solutions and Technologies

While the new guidelines pose challenges for schools and sporting activities, they also create opportunities for innovation. To implement the new AQI guidelines, schools can invest in specialized air quality monitoring devices. Here are some practical solutions and promising approaches:

1. Real-Time Air Quality Monitoring Systems

Imagine having a tiny air quality superhero on campus, constantly checking the air you breathe. That’s exactly what a real-time air quality monitoring system does. Here’s why they’re a game-changer for schools:

  • Get real-time AQI readings to see if outdoor activities need to be adjusted. Bad air day? No problem, you’ll know to move practice indoors.
  • Monitor CO2 and VOCs to identify potential ventilation issues and keep your indoor air fresh.

2. High-Efficiency Air Filtration Systems

Indoor air quality meters and sensors monitor pollutant levels within school buildings, including classrooms, gyms, and cafeterias. HEPA air filtration systems act like super-powered air vacuums, trapping pollutants before they reach your athletes’ lungs. This means cleaner air for practices and training sessions when outdoor air quality takes a dip.

3. Portable Air Quality Monitor

Portable AQI monitors offer flexibility and mobility, allowing school staff to assess air quality levels in different areas of the school campus. These handheld devices can detect pollutants and provide instant readings, making them useful for spot-checking air quality indoors and outdoors.

4. Weather Apps and Web Platforms

Several mobile apps, air quality monitors, and web platforms like AirNow and Purple Air track the AQI forecast, air pollution rating, and real-time air quality data. These platforms allow school administrators and staff to monitor the air quality index live remotely and plan outdoor activities accordingly.

5. Weather Stations with AQI Sensors

Integrated weather stations equipped with AQI sensors monitor both weather conditions and air quality. These stations provide data on temperature, humidity, wind speed, and AQI, allowing schools to correlate weather patterns with air quality fluctuations and take proactive measures to mitigate pollution risks.

Integrating AQI monitoring capabilities into HVAC systems lets you automatically adjust ventilation rates and air filtration settings based on real-time air quality data, ensuring optimal indoor air quality levels.

Problems with Low-Cost Air Quality Sensors

Poor air quality continues to be one of the largest problems people face daily. However, it’s even worse since most sensors used to detect air quality are of low quality. These sensors are sold at the lowest price possible, so they might not give you the best readings. A good air quality measurement device is necessary for you to understand the air around your property and facilities.

Dangers of Air Pollution
Air pollution is one of the biggest dangers facing humans in modern-day society. So many of our illnesses can be attributed to poor air quality. That is why air quality measurement devices are so essential to ensuring safety inside and outside. Even though you cannot see those air pollutants, they are there going inside your body and causing problems. It makes health problems like asthma even worse, and it could potentially lead to serious issues for people.

How Low Cost Air Quality Sensors Came to Dominate
With the importance of having good air quality, many manufacturers decided that it was essential to make low cost air quality sensors. They realized that air quality measurement is the only way to start the process of cleaning up the air.. If you are hosting an event, the low cost air quality measurement option might seem tempting. However, there are certain problems you will encounter that could make things problematic for your organization. Ozone and certain fine particulate matter cause the biggest problems, and you can’t be sure whether or not your poor air quality meter is going to catch the most serious issues.

Problems with Low Cost Air Quality Sensors
The biggest reason why low cost air quality measurement devices are problematic is their missing data and accuracy it provides. These devices are notoriously inaccurate, and you can’t always trust the information you are getting. Air quality measurement is actually quite complicated, and choosing to go with the highest quality version is worth it.

Cheap air quality measurement tools won’t tell you the difference between each pollutant. You might end up in a situation where the meter tells you that everything is fine, yet there is a lot of ozone or other particulates in the air. This is particularly true when it comes to meters that can only measure one type of contaminant. When that happens, it is almost always going to lead to health problems, which could cause you a lot of pain when people get sick from attending your event. Low cost quality measurement devices simply don’t have the technology needed to get accurate readings to help you make real progress in the fight against poor air quality.

Example 1: Two sensors within 500ft, but they are displaying completely different readings: 241 vs 46. No quality control of the data and likely one of these devices is reporting bad data, but how is the university to know which one or if either are correct.
Example 2: This is an array of sensors in a neighborhood in Menlo Park. The values range from 6-234 in about a 1-mile swath. The variability in such a small geospatial area is a red flag for poor data.

AirNow
AirNow is a collection of US government air quality sensors managed by the EPA. The primary problem with government data in general is the relatively small available data size and slow update cycles (~1.5 – 2 hrs). Air quality is highly dependent on wind speed and direction. Therefore, sensor placement in respect to your site is pivotal for accurate measurements. The closest AirNow station to Stanford is 5 miles WNW and historically only updates every 2 hours.

Example 1: AirNow’s sensor in Davis, CA is actually on UC Davis’s campus. Coincidently, UC Davis utilizes Perry Weather’s sensors and software. At 9:30am PST this morning the oncampus AirNow station was reading 162, but that reading was 1.5 hours old. Perry Weather’s sensor on campus was reading much higher at 181. When needing to make operational decisions based on accurate data you need site-specific sensors with rapid update cycles.

Perry Weather’s Air Quality Measurement Device
Perry Weather provides the US-standard reporting of AQI for our air quality sensors. Our weather and air monitoring software provides a running average for the following increments: 10min, 30 min, 60min, 1day, 1week.

Our air quality sensors are optical based rather than filter based and measure standard PM2.5. We then convert those readings to the US-standard AQI value. Here are some more detailed specs about the sensor itself:

Range of measurement: 0.3~1.0;1.0~2.5;2.5~10 μ m
Effective Range: 0~500 μ g/m³
Resolution: 1 μ g/m³
Standard Volume: 0.1L
Working Temperature Range: -10~+60 ℃
Working Humidity Range: 0~99%


Our units read the raw data and send it to our servers for a rigorous quality control sifting process. From there our program calculates the AQI by throwing out anomalous data and comparing it with multiple sensor nodes.

For helpful information about the best air quality measurement solutions, contact our weather consultants at Perry Weather today!

How Perry Weather Can Help


Perry Weather provides easy air quality monitoring designed specifically for athletic facilities. Our platform offers real-time data for specific locations on key pollutants like PM2.5, WBGT (Wet Bulb Globe Temperature), and ozone.

Perry Weather seamlessly integrates with your existing AQI sensors, including Node-S AQI sensors to bring all your weather data and operations into a single platform. In addition, Perry Weather includes an on-site weather monitoring station that offers a convenient and reliable way for schools to meet the heat stress monitoring requirements of the upcoming CIF guidelines. Our weather stations and software provide:

  1. Real-Time Data-Driven Decision Making:
    Perry Weather tracks air quality levels in real-time so that schools can develop flexible activity plans and adjust schedules based on changing air quality conditions.
  2. Outdoor Warning Systems for Proactive Communication:
    Perry Weather’s outdoor warning system and automated as well as manual alerts allow schools to easily notify staff about air quality updates and schedule changes. Schools can make use of early warning systems that predict potential air quality changes to plan alternative activities.
  3. Weather Alerts Customized to Your Policies: Perry Weather’s customizable alerts for air quality, heat stress, lightning, and custom triggers or manual warnings seamlessly integrate with your existing policies.
  4. Historical Data Log for Informed Planning: Perry Weather offers historical data logging based on predefined thresholds, allowing proactive responses and informed planning.

Conclusion

California’s new AQI guidelines and policy changes reflect a commitment to cleaner air for future generations. By embracing these technologies, California schools can create a healthier learning environment for students while adhering to the new AQI guidelines that prioritize student and staff health during air quality challenges.

Learn more about how Perry Weather can help your school tackle air quality challenges and ensure athlete safety. Visit our website or contact us today to discuss your specific weather monitoring needs.

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