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Why is the Sky Hazy in Wisconsin Today?

person holding a smarthphone that shows the current air quality

Air Quality in Wisconsin and Its Health Impact

Medically reviewed by Kris Roloff RN, BSN, CCM, quality care coordinator at Network Health
6/19/2023

If you’ve ever noticed that the sky looks overcast, but it doesn’t look like a typical cloudy day, it’s quite possible you are seeing the effects of air pollutants. In addition to the environmental impact, air quality can also impact one’s health.

Generally, there is little reason to be concerned about the air quality, especially here in Wisconsin. Sometimes, however, conditions may be impacted to the extent that an area’s air quality is no longer healthy. People with certain conditions may be particularly sensitive to this, and they are often the ones who experience the most impact. But before we get into what can affect air quality and what the health ramifications are, we must first talk about the air quality index (AQI).

Air Quality Index Explained

The AQI is a scale that is used to report on the air quality in an area. Measurements are taken of five different pollutants. These are ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Once measured, an AQI rating is determined for each pollutant, with figures falling into one of six AQI categories.

Good (green) – Satisfactory air quality with little or no risk.

Moderate (yellow) – Acceptable air quality but with a slight risk for those who are unusually sensitive to air pollution.

Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (orange) – Those with certain conditions may have their health impacted.

Unhealthy (red) – The general public may experience ill effects from air quality. Those with certain conditions may experience more severe effects.

Very Unhealthy (purple) – Increased risk for everyone.

Hazardous (maroon) – Emergency health conditions that could impact anyone.

When air conditions become unhealthy, those in the area may be notified of an air quality alert via their local news station or smartphone weather app.

Why Might the Air Quality Be Bad in Wisconsin?

We don’t often think of Wisconsin as being a location that needs to worry much about air quality, apart from springtime when pollen can negatively impact those with seasonal allergies. Many people think about high-population areas with a lot of cars, like Los Angeles, when they think about poor air quality.

So, what can cause poor air quality in Wisconsin? Transportation and industry can certainly be two significant causes, but nature can also create air quality problems. Temperature and humidity can both affect air quality. For example, ground-level ozone is generated more efficiently in warm, sunny conditions. More dramatic occurrences, such as volcanic eruptions (even in other parts of the globe) and wildfires, can wreak havoc on local air quality hundreds or thousands of miles away. Of course, wildfires are the more likely natural disaster to impact our Midwest region.

Can Wildfire Smoke Make You Sick?

As mentioned, these wildfires may not even take place here in Wisconsin. Smoke from fires in Canada to California and other locations can drift our way, polluting the air and causing illness. Those with underlying conditions are likely to be the ones most impacted by this drifting wildfire smoke, potentially causing the following symptoms.

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • General trouble breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Runny nose and sinus irritation
  • Headaches
  • Chest pain

Conditions That Can Cause Someone to Be More Impacted by Wildfires

There are many possible diseases and illnesses that can cause someone to be more impacted by wildfire smoke or any other air pollutant than the general population. If you belong to any of the following groups or have any of the following conditions, you should take extra caution when the AQI worsens beyond green or yellow.

  • Cardiovascular or lung diseases
  • Lung cancer
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Age 65 or older
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoke tobacco or exposed to second-hand smoke

If air conditions descend into either the unhealthy or hazardous categories, it’s best to stay indoors. If you must be outside, avoid strenuous activity and take frequent breaks.

The AQI is updated regularly throughout Wisconsin. You can check the current and forecasted AQI in an area by visiting AirNow.gov. If you have questions about coverage available from your Network Health plan for conditions that may cause you to be more sensitive to air pollution, you can click below to contact us.

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