Stop on Red: Reducing Exposure on High Pollution Days

 RED ALERT! Was does the alarm mean? Poor air quality is dangerous for us all, but it poses an even greater risk for those with respiratory issues. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a standardized system (the Air Quality Index, or AQI) for air quality ratings, and all schools should monitor their local air pollution regularly. Check the EPA outdoor air pollution page,, for ratings. On orange and red days, students with asthma should limit or avoid time outside and outdoor exertion or they could be heading towards an asthma-related attack.

How Can I Be Prepared?

One of the first steps in ensuring your students’ safety is to establish policies related to what to do on high (orange and red on the AQI) pollution days. Policies should include: 

  • A plan to make changes in athletic practices and/or games/meets on high alert days 
  • Scheduling activities during “off-peak” times of year when high air pollution episodes are not as common; this is especially important for outdoor physical education activities or other “intramural” outdoor activities 
  • Lower-impact activities for children with asthma with environmental sensitivities  

When school administrators, parents and students all know about the effects of air pollution they can also help with managing exposure risks. Include information about the relationship between outdoor air pollutants and asthma during staff in-services, student asthma education programs and parents’ group and individual programs. 

There are other environmental situations to be aware of including sulfur dioxide from factories and power plants, diesel exhaust, agricultural burning and forest fires or pesticide spraying/pesticide drift. Schools should set policies based on information from local health departments or air pollution control agencies.  

Finally, for students with known sensitivities, it’s best to for each child to learn how to minimize their own exposure to outdoor air pollution. Asthma Action Plans should include information on air pollutants, including the child’s own known triggers. Plan ahead to adjust activities and exposure for students with respiratory symptoms on high pollution days. Schools can create communications for a referral process for students with symptoms, confirming air pollution as a trigger to help schools, parents and the child’s doctor work together.  

Want more?

Here are some helpful reference materials from the American Lung Association:

To learn more about Asthma and the Taking on Asthma initiative, visit our website!


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