Why the current Air Quality Index tool should go the way of analog T.V.

The public needs and deserves AQI simplification – why?

When I was teaching a digital electronics principles class at California State University, Long Beach during the 1987-’88 academic year, this is the class I liked the best – I taught three different electronics classes in all.

The students, besides being taught material that in comparison was like learning a whole new language, could, in lab, realize through electronic circuitry, so much of what was being covered in class. Circuits built included ring counters, shift registers, and more. And, it was all based off of what is referred to as a binary or two-state approach: ones and zeros. One equates to “on.” Zero equates to “off.” It is that simple.

Simple being the operative word here how nice it would be if the Air Quality Index was simplified. Quite!

As it stands, the AQI is multi-tiered, meaning that there are presently six different levels or tiers of air quality-related characteristics.

  • 0-50 = good (green)
  • 51-100 = moderate (yellow)
  • 101-150 = unhealthy for sensitive individuals or groups (orange)
  • 151-200 = unhealthy (red)
  • 201-300 = very unhealthy (purple)
  • 301 and above = hazardous (maroon)

Believe it or not, but when I was in elementary school, in the cafeteria, attached to one of its eating-room walls was a wood board on which was affixed three light sockets. In each of the three sockets sat, respectively, three different colored light bulbs.

  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Green

With at least one on at all times, when the green bulb was lit, talking was permitted. With the yellow bulb illuminated, this meant chatter had become too loud, the illuminated yellow lightbulb serving as kind of a warning to, as it were, tone things down. When the red bulb was lit, watch out, that meant talking was prohibited – no ifs, ands or buts about it. Was a disciplinary tool of this nature a bit too extreme? I don’t think so. But, that’s really beside the point. What matters here isn’t that this method’s approach to disciplining was extremely effective which, by the way, it was, but rather that this tool’s message was exceedingly clear. And all contained in a simple – 3-light – package and the real beauty of this whole thing.

As it relates to the Air Quality Index, why on earth is anything other than a two-color AQI reporting system needed? I mean, as in the binary system of ones and zeros alluded to above, the bottom line is that air quality is either healthy or it’s not. Therefore, as to why the need for each and all of the categories in-between, is simply beyond me.

If the categories were reduced to just two – healthy (green) and unhealthy (red) – would this not get across the condition or “quality” of outdoor or outside air? Of course, it would!

Besides, in the end, such should give the public a greater understanding in terms of how close standards non-attainment areas are to becoming air-quality compliant or, in other words, the standards being met. As a point of reference, it should be noted that the standards (ozone – O3 – and fine particulates – PM2.5) conform to air quality only in a state of good (healthy) repair. Exceed or breach the so-called “cut-off” point and whether O3 or PM2.5, the standard is unmet. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

If it happens my argument fails to convince, then I defer to the KISS or Keep It Simple Silly principle.

So, who’s got comments, questions?

Image above: Wikimedia Commons

– Alan Kandel

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