Protect Yourself from the Health Effects of Air Pollution Exposure: The  Flag Program

This page last reviewed September 30, 2016

Air Quality and the Flag Program

Regular physical activity — at least 60 minutes each day — is essential for good health and physical fitness. When you exercise, you breathe more air per minute, and if the air is polluted, you inhale more air pollution than when you are at rest. So, exercise can increase risk for experiencing adverse health effects related to air pollution. The health benefits of exercise are usually greater than the negative effects related to air pollution, so the table below was developed by U.S. EPA to give schools guidance on when and how to modify outdoor physical activity based on the Air Quality Index.  In this way children gain the health benefits of exercise while also protecting them from adverse effects of air pollution. Schools that participate in the program fly flags with the color corresponding to the day’s projected AQI to give teachers guidance about the duration and intensity of outdoor activity suitable for students. Although the program was developed for schools, the table and advice are equally applicable to teenagers and adults who want to be active outdoors.

Air Quality Index Outdoor Activity Guidance
green flag
GOOD
Great day to be active outside!
yellow flag
MODERATE
Good day to be active outside!

Students who are unusually sensitive to air pollution could have symptoms.*
orange flag
UNHEALTHY FOR SENSITIVE GROUPS
It’s OK to be active outside, especially for short activities such as recess and physical education (PE).

For longer activities such as athletic practice, take more breaks and do less intense activities. Watch for symptoms and take action as needed.*

Students with asthma should follow their asthma action plans and keep their quick-relief medicine handy.
red flag
UNHEALTHY
For all outdoor activities, take more breaks and do less intense activities.

Consider moving longer or more intense activities indoors or rescheduling them to another day or time.

Watch for symptoms and take action as needed.*

Students with asthma should follow their asthma action plans and keep their quick-relief medicine handy.
purple flag
VERY UNHEALTHY
Move all activities indoors or reschedule them to another day.

For more information on the school flag and similar local programs, click on the following links:
 

For more information contact ARB’s Public Information Office at (800) 242-4450.

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