Earth Friendly: Colors indicate air quality

Kate Garcia

Life may be like a box of chocolates for Forrest Gump, but around our office, it's more like a bag of Skittles.

On any given day, you might find I mention we are in the middle of a Code Yellow "moderate" day or a Code Green "good" day, but what does it all mean? What exactly are the Clean Living Green Guy and Orange Menace trying to tell me?

I say those are great questions with just as great answers.

The Air Quality Index scale created by the Environmental Protection Agency is broken down into six categories. Each category has a color, a number range and a level of health concern associated with it. In basic terms, the number scale tells us the amount of certain pollutants in the air measured in parts per billion.

If the mood strikes you, pull out a bag of Skittles and follow along.

Code Green "Good" - Numeric range from 0 to 50 ppb.

This is typically the coded day Victoria remains in for most of the year. This means air quality is considered satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risk. This is also the color of our newest character to the Clean Living Series, Green Guy, defender of air quality. When you see him on a billboard, hear him on the radio or spot him in a commercial, you'll know he is clean air's champion.

Code Yellow "Moderate"- Numeric range of 51 to 100 ppb.

It isn't unusual to see Victoria experience Code Yellow days. These days normally occur in the height of ozone season (from May to October). Code Yellow means air quality is acceptable; however, for some pollutants, there may be a moderate health concern for a very small number of people who are unusually sensitive to air pollution.

Code Orange "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups"- Numeric range of 101 to 150 ppb.

Code Orange triggers an Ozone Action Day, which means the community is asked to do their very best to practice healthy air quality practices like fueling up after 5 p.m. or carpooling as much as possible.

Code Orange means members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is not likely to be affected. I am happy to report Victoria has not seen one Code Orange day this ozone season. But, watch out for the Green Guy's nemesis, the Orange Menace.

The last three codes are extremely abnormal for Victoria, but in short, they are:

Code Red "Unhealthy"- Numeric range 151 to 200 ppb.

Code Red means everyone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.

Code Purple "Very Unhealthy"- Numeric range 201 to 300 ppb.

Code Purple means health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected.

Code Maroon means there is now a health alert: Everyone may experience more serious health effects.

While the AQI scale may not be as much fun as a bag of Skittles, it's information everyone benefits from knowing, especially because Victoria is growing every day.

Kate Garcia is the programs coordinator for the city of Victoria, Environmental Services.