SPRINGFIELD — In celebration of Earth Month and Air Quality Awareness Week, Illinois EPA Director Lisa Bonnett and Illinois Partners for Clean Air have joined together to promote Air Quality Awareness Week in Illinois. The week April 28 – May 2 has been proclaimed by Governor Pat Quinn and designated by U.S. EPA to help educate the public about air quality and encourage citizens to regularly check their local air quality forecast.
Director Bonnet announced the expansion of the Illinois Air Quality Flag Program to businesses by raising a color-coded flag at the Agency’s headquarters in Springfield. Illinois EPA will be the first business to participate. Raising the Air Quality Flag started a week of activities at the Agency to highlight Air Quality Awareness Week in Illinois. Director Bonnett was joined by representatives from the Illinois Department of Public Health, Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Environmental Council, American Lung Association and Lanphier High School.
“This is an easy and effective way to alert residents of daily air quality,” said Director Bonnett. “While we have seen significant improvements in the air quality in Illinois, individuals should still be aware of their daily air quality so they can take precautions when necessary.”
“People living with lung disease are among the first to feel the impact of high air pollution levels,” noted Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs at Respiratory Health Association. “Having easy access to air quality information is crucial for many families and every person can do something to help keep our air quality healthy. Partnerships with businesses and institutions to help spread the word on positive air quality actions and how to find daily air quality can make a difference for everyone who breathes.”
Air Quality Awareness Week in Illinois is focusing on actions individuals can take to reduce air pollution while staying informed of their local air quality. Illinois EPA will be highlighting these activities to their employees. A complete list of the weekly activities is attached.
The Illinois Air Quality Flag Program, was first announced by Director Bonnett and Illinois Partners for Clean Air in 2013, and targeted schools in the Chicago region, where air pollution levels become more elevated. Participants in the program fly a color-coded flag to notify employees and local residents of that day’s air quality forecast.
The Illinois Air Quality Flag Program was modeled after the U.S. EPA School Flag Program, and has been designed to expand beyond schools to Illinois businesses. The program features the Air Quality Index, a color-coded system developed as a guide for reporting daily air quality, which indicates how clean or polluted the air is and includes health effects. Each day, the Illinois EPA issues a daily air quality forecast for fourteen sectors throughout Illinois, including Springfield. The Air Quality Flag Program uses green, yellow, orange, red and purple flags. These colors are represented by the corresponding category on the Air Quality Index.
• Green – Air Quality is Good
• Yellow – Air Quality is Moderate
• Orange – Air Quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (including children, older adults, and people with pulmonary or respiratory diseases, including asthma)
• Red – Air quality is Unhealthy
• Purple – Air Quality is Very Unhealthy
Like the weather and allergens, air quality can change from day to day, and Illinois EPA wants individuals to be “aware of the air” they breathe. The Air Quality Flag Program is a simple tool for doing so. Children are particularly susceptible to air pollution because their lungs are still developing. Air pollution can cause shortness of breath, coughing, eye and nose irritation and has been connected with aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, irregular heartbeat and premature death.
Individuals can receive daily air quality notifications by signing up for a FREE subscription to Illinois EnviroFlash. The daily air quality forecast is sent to subscribers via email, cell phone or Twitter. This program is made possible through a partnership with the Illinois and U.S. EPA. Illinois EnviroFlash is currently available for residents in Chicago, Rockford, Quad Cities, Peoria, Springfield and Metro-East St. Louis. Citizens outside of these regions can find the local air quality at www.epa.state.il.us/air/aqi/ or at www.airnow.gov.
“Individuals should check their daily air quality just like they check the daily weather, especially those sensitive to air pollution,” added Director Bonnett. “The Illinois EPA is proud to highlight a program that helps get that information into our communities.”
The Illinois EPA serves as chair of the Illinois Partners for Clean Air coalition and administers the Air Quality Flag Program on behalf of the coalition. Businesses and schools interested in participating in the program can find additional information at http://www.cleantheair.org/educational-programs/illinois-air-quality-flag-program or by contacting the Illinois EPA at 217-524-2378.
Illinois Partners for Clean Air is a nonprofit coalition dedicated to improving air quality through voluntary actions. The coalition consists of government agencies, businesses and health advocacy groups, uniting with individuals committed to reducing harmful emissions and improving air quality.
Air Quality Awareness Week Activities
April 28 – “Cycle Monday” – Ride your bicycle to places you would normally drive your car. Get some fresh air and save some gas. For individuals: Combine errands and get a workout at the same time by biking. For organizations: Offer secure storage for bikes and encourage employees to use precaution and wear helmets.
April 29 – “Ride Together Tuesday” – Carpool to as many locations as possible. Riding together decreases the amount of dust and emissions in the air. For individuals: Organize a ride-share pool among coworkers. For organizations: Offer preferred parking spaces for carpool vehicles. Illinois EPA will also be hosting a brownbag lunch for employees featuring a short movie from U.S. EPA/AirNow “Forecast Earth: Air Aware Video” about air pollution and health.
April 30 – “Walk Somewhere Wednesday” – Walk to nearby locations instead of driving. Leaving the car behind will reduce emissions and increasing the number of steps you take will improve your health. For individuals: Run errands by foot. For organizations: Offer a catered-in lunch for employees or plan a group lunch at a nearby restaurant.
May 1 – “No Idle” Thursday – Avoid idling your car or truck. Implement a no-idle policy at your office or company. For individuals: avoid using the drive-thru and go inside to order your food, coffee, prescriptions, or to do your banking. You’ll reduce exhaust emissions from your idling car, receive some exercise, and save some money if you put this into practice. For fleets: UPS and other delivery services turn off the engines on their vehicles at every stop, even if it’s only for 30 seconds to drop off a box at the door. This simple step at each stop saves them a lot of money.
May 2 – “Car Free Friday” – Take public transportation instead of driving. Many cities offer bus or train options with stops in popular areas. For individuals: Check what public transportation options are available near your home and work. For organizations: Did you know some public transportation organizations offer discounts when passes are purchased in bulk? Look into discounts in your area and sell passes directly to employees.