Air Pollution: How Bad Is It?


Jimmy Nava Flores

New Mexico has some of the cleanest air compared to countries such as China, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The cleanliness of air is measured by the Air Quality Index (AQI), which is a measure for reporting the safety levels of air in a specific location. 

The US Environmental Protection Agency uses breakpoints that correspond to a defined pollution concentration as being good, moderate, unhealthy for sensitive groups, unhealthy, very unhealthy, and hazardous. “Breakpoints” are scaled between 0 and 500 AQI. 

The AQI in Santa Fe, measured at the Santa Fe Airport, tends to range from 10 to 40.

Although it changes according to the day, countries that rank as having the worst air quality worldwide include India, Bangladesh, Israel, Palestine, Mexico, China, and Bosnia Herzegovina, according to But AQI varies within the countries. For example, some of China’s cities have an AQI of 78, which is considered moderate. However, some reach as high as 446 AQI, which is hazardous to everyone.

According to the government website SciJinks, AQI tracks five major air pollutants: ground level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and airborne particles (“aerosols”), which are small particles of solid matter and liquid drops in the air that come from smoke, fumes and dust.

Air pollution can be dangerous to a person’s health. Breathing in smog leads to short-term effects such as coughing and throat or chest irritation. High levels of ozone can irritate the respiratory system, usually lasting for a few hours after being exposed to smog. 

However, ozone can continue to harm the lungs even after symptoms disappear. Worsening for people with asthma, exposure to high levels of ozone from smog can trigger asthma attacks. Difficulty breathing and lung damage can make it feel difficult to breathe deeply. For tobacco smokers and people with respiratory problems, air pollution may lead to early fatalities.

The U.S. had an unhealthy amount of air pollution a few decades ago. Although the air is cleaner now, there is still air pollution in places such as the East Coast, and more than half of California is below national standards. Parts of Utah, Arizona and Pennsylvania have AQIs of 50 through 114 AQI, which is unhealthy for sensitive groups and could cause harm to babies. 

Even though air pollution has slowly been going down in some places, it is still a threat.