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Surviving the Inversion

Inversion Survival Infographic

"Ugh, it's a red day."

"Woohoo, it's a green day!"

Most of us know that red is bad and green is good when it comes to air quality. But what does the color of the day tell us about how we should alter our behavior? If it's, say, an orange day, what should we do differently to safeguard our health?

Depends on the individual, says Robert Paine, MD, His recommendations for each color are as follows:

Green: Air quality is satisfactory and pollution poses little to no risk.

Yellow: Air quality is acceptable but may pose a risk to people who have active problems with conditions such as heart disease, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, emphysema and cystic fibrosis. If you're at risk, limit outdoor exercise and time spent outdoors, and be sure to use medications meticulously. Call your health care provider if symptoms increase.

Orange: Air quality is unhealthy for sensitive groups, including small children, older people, pregnant women and individuals with lung disease or heart disease. If you're at risk, avoid outdoor exercise and limit time outdoors, use medications meticulously, and call your health care provider if symptoms increase.

Red: Air quality is unhealthy for everyone, especially sensitive groups. Avoid exercising outside and limit children's outdoor playtime (recess should be indoors at this level of pollution). Sensitive groups need to be especially vigilant.

Check current conditions here:

Tips to Improve Air Quality

Want to be part of the solution? Here's how you can help improve air quality during inversions:

  • Anticipate the inversion. The 1-2 days in advance of an inversion (often yellow air days) provide an opportunity to limit emissions and decrease the levels of particulate matter into the atmosphere.
  • Avoid wood-burning (unless it's your sole source of heat).
  • Limit driving overall, and limit driving by carpooling and using public transportation.
  • Avoid cold starts. The greatest emissions from most motor vehicles are in the first few minutes before the vehicle has warmed up. Use trip chaining to limit cold starts (when a vehicle has been sitting for more than two hours).
  • Review your community's air pollution plans and support state and local efforts to clean up the air.