Recommendations for Schools and Child Cares on Poor Air Quality Days

Air Quality Index (AQI) Table for Ozone and PM2.5 with Visibilities for Wildfire Smoke1
Activity Good = 0 to 50 (Visibility 11 miles and up) Moderate = 51 to 100 (6 to 10 miles) Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups* = 101 to 150 (3 to 5 miles) Unhealthy = 151 to 200 (1.5 to 2.75 miles) Very Unhealthy = 201 to 300 (1 to 1.25 miles) Hazardous = 301 to 500 (less than 1 mile)
Recess (15 min.) No Restrictions No Restrictions Make indoor space available to all children, especially those with lung/heart illnesses or who complain about difficulty breathing. Restrict outdoor activities to all children and limit prolonged or heavy exertion. Restrict outdoor activities to all children and limit indoor activities to light to moderate exercise. Keep everyone indoors and limit indoor activity to light exercise.
P.E. (1 hr.) No Restrictions No Restrictions Make indoor space available to all children. High school students with lung/heart conditions should limit prolonged or heavy exertion. Restrict outdoor activities to all children and limit prolonged or heavy exertion. Restrict outdoor activities to all children and limit indoor activities to light to moderate exercise. Keep everyone indoors and limit indoor activity to light exercise.
Scheduled Sporting Events No Restrictions Unusually sensitive children and high school students should limit prolonged or heavy exertion during scheduled sporting events. High school students with asthma or other respiratory or cardiovascular illnesses should be medically managing their condition. Increase rest periods and substitutions to lower breathing rates. Consideration should be given to rescheduling or relocating the event. Event should be rescheduled or relocated. Event should be rescheduled or relocated.
Athletic Practice and Training (2 to 4 hrs.) No Restrictions Unusually sensitive children and high school students should limit prolonged or heavy exertion during practice or training. High school students with asthma or other respiratory or cardiovascular illness should be medically managing their condition. Increase rest periods and substitutions to lower breathing rates. Activities over 2 hours should decrease intensity and duration. Add rest breaks or substitutions to lower breathing rates. Practice or training should be rescheduled or relocated. Practice or training should be rescheduled or relocated.

1 Visibility conversions to AQI were taken from "Wildfire Smoke: A Guide for Public Health Officials" (Rev. July 2008 with 2012 AQI updates)

* Children are anyone from Infant to 8th Grade. High School Students are indicated and assumed to be the participants for Scheduled Sporting Events and Practice and Training activities. For children, consideration for relocation or rescheduling should be given at the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups range for Sporting Events and Practice and Training activities.

How to use this AQI Table

The use of this AQI table by Washoe County Schools and Child Care Facilities is voluntary, but is recommended by the Washoe County Health District, Air Quality Management Division (AQMD) based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) guidelines for Ozone and PM2.5.

How to use this AQI table:

The following steps are an example situation:

Step 1: Check the AQI forecast for Tuesday on Monday especially during potentially poor air quality days. Forecast AQI information is found on AirNow. Forecasts are also available on ourcleanair.com, the AQI Hotline 785-4110, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Step 2: If the forecast is “Very Unhealthy”, follow the guidance in the AQI table; for recess and P.E. restrict outdoor activities to all children and limit exercise indoors to light to moderate exercise; Sporting events, training, and practice should be relocated or rescheduled.

Step 3: On Tuesday, check the current AQI on AirNow before an activity like recess, P.E., scheduled event, or practice/training and use the AQI table provided.

(Only during wildfires) Step 4: In addition to the current AQI provided by AirNow, go outside and find a permanent structure or geologic feature (hill, mountain) that has a known distance from school or child care. For example, if the structure or feature is 1 mile away and it cannot be seen, we are most likely in the “Very Unhealthy” or “Hazardous” ranges. Follow the AQI table guidelines, for the category indicated based on your visibility.

Limitations of AirNow

Data for AirNow is sent every hour by AQMD to the website at the top of the hour. The AQI based on this data is typically updated at the bottom of that same hour. This lag is an important limitation and must be considered when determining important health decisions. Conditions can change rapidly during poor air quality days (wildfire smoke, inversions, dust storms, etc.). Generally, if you see or smell the smoke or dust, stay indoors. As always with technology, there can be malfunctions and glitches that are temporary in which our AQI calculations will be provided as needed by phone, email, Facebook, and Twitter.

Ozone

Ozone (O3) is an invisible pollutant and a strong irritant that can cause constriction of the airways, forcing the respiratory system to work harder in order to provide oxygen. For Washoe County, ozone is a summertime, regional pollutant in which all Washoe County schools and child cares will experience similar levels. Ozone usually reaches its highest level during the afternoon and early evening hours, and the highest concentrations are often downwind of the urban area. Indoor levels of ozone are usually less than outdoor air.

Fine Particulates (PM2.5)

In Washoe County, fine particulate (2.5 microns and smaller) levels in outdoor air generally are highest during the fall and winter months due to woodstove and fireplace use especially during cold air inversions. Children who are exposed to fine particles may experience respiratory symptoms such as asthma symptoms and difficulty breathing. Small particles may enter deep parts of the lung and cross into the bloodstream and circulate in the body. Smoke from wildfires is primarily made up of PM2.5. The visibility to AQI conversion can only be used during wildfire smoke events.

AQI versus Burn Code

Unique to Washoe County, the wintertime Burn Codes (Nov. 1 – Feb. 28) are issued each morning and afternoon or as conditions change. The program began in the mid 1980s to help with particulate matter levels and is still used. The Green, Yellow, and Red color scheme was implemented for the public to understand when to burn or not. Burn Code colors are NOT AQI colors. The Air Quality Index for PM2.5 was developed by the EPA more recent and adopted its own color scheme. A Red Burn Code does not equal a red AQI (Unhealthy 151-200) and a yellow AQI (Moderate 51-100) does not equal a Yellow Burn Code. Burn Codes, although designed to protect human health, are not AQIs.

This guidance was developed by the Washoe County Health District, Air Quality Management Division.

The AQI table was adapted from the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District "Air Quality Guidelines for Schools."

Revised August 28, 2013