PRESS RELEASE: NJ DEP, Trenton (April 29, 2022) –
New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP) has launched a user-friendly system of color-coded flags to help keep New Jersey residents and visitors aware of outdoor air quality conditions to reduce exposure to air pollution and improve public health outcomes, Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette announced earlier this month.
Air Quality Flag
The New Jersey Air Quality Flag Program is designed to protect public health by encouraging communities and organizations to display a specific flag each day based on that day’s air quality forecast. Each of the five brightly colored flags match the color system of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index, corresponding to potential health impacts and actions to take to reduce possible effects. The program’s aim is to advise the public on what, if any, precautions they should take while outdoors, based on the day’s air quality.
“Information is power, and it is our job to help empower all New Jersey communities to protect their health and environment,” Commissioner LaTourette said. “This easy-to-follow Air Quality system is yet another tool from the Murphy Administration to protect and improve the health and well-being of all New Jersey communities. When our fellow residents are well-informed about air quality conditions, they can take the necessary precautions, like reducing certain outdoor activities, during poor air quality circumstances.”
This year’s theme for Air Quality Awareness Week in New Jersey is “Be Air Aware & Prepared” and will feature outreach messages each day. Air Quality Awareness Week coincides with the beginning of the ozone season, a time of year when outdoor ozone levels can reach unhealthy levels.
Air Quality Flag (2)
Ozone can bring on asthma attacks and adversely affect the health of sensitive individuals, including those with respiratory and heart issues, older adults, young children and people who are active outdoors. Ground-level ozone is a respiratory irritant formed by the interaction of certain pollutants and sunshine. Ground-level ozone has been linked to cardiovascular disease and premature death. It remains the most persistent criteria pollutant problem in New Jersey and the northeastern United States.
People sensitive to adverse air quality should be mindful of symptoms including coughing and shortness of breath, which are signs to take things easier. While outdoors, consider the following:
- Reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion.
- Take more breaks.
- Shorten the length and intensity of any physical activity.
- Schedule outdoor activities in the morning when exposure to ozone is less intense.
- Seek medical assistance, if necessary.
Organizations that participate in the colored-flag program will receive daily air quality forecasts between 10 and 11 a.m. via an email or text alert system known as Enviroflash. The air quality forecast will be based on the Air Quality Index, which reports daily air quality levels for ozone and fine particulate matter, or PM2.5. New Jersey’s air quality levels are compared with the pollutant’s National Ambient Air Quality Standard.
“We’ve had a rough, few years dealing with health threats that float around undetectable in the air, but in the case of air pollution, we have the ability to detect potential threats,” Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora said. “Now we will have the tools to better communicate those potential threats to our residents. We often don’t consider air quality when planning outings or long stretches outdoors, but this will be a visible reminder that the air we breathe is as important as the food we eat and the water we drink. It’s hard to defend against invisible threats, and by flying these colors we bring damaging air quality into the light of day.”
“We are very excited to be part of the New Jersey Air Quality Flag Program,” said Patton J. Hill Elementary School Principal Talaya Stoddard-Wilson. “It is a wonderful initiative.”
Air Quality (3)
After receiving the forecast, participants will display the corresponding flag to alert their community about current air quality conditions:
GREEN: Good air quality;
YELLOW: Moderate air quality;
ORANGE: Unhealthy air quality for sensitive groups such as children, people with respiratory and cardiovascular ailments, people who are active outdoors, and older adults;
RED: Unhealthy air quality;
PURPLE: Very unhealthy air quality.
Program participants must be in New Jersey. Schools, senior centers, summer camps and daycare centers are eligible to partner with the DEP and receive free flags and educational materials about the program.
For more information or to sign up for the program, visit https://dep.nj.gov/njaqflagprogram
Air Quality Awareness Week Focus
In addition to the flag program, DEP’s Division of Air Quality will focus on other air topics throughout the week to educate the public about what the DEP is doing to improve air quality and simple actions the public can take to help further reduce air pollution:
Tuesday, May 3: Regional Haze and Visibility;
Wednesday, May 4: Renewable Energy – Solar, Wind;
Thursday, May 5: Clean Transportation
Friday, May 6: Environmental Justice and Air Quality.
Clean Air Initiatives
The introduction of the Air Quality Flag Program continues New Jersey’s suite of initiatives to improve air quality and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from air pollution that cause climate change. Among recent key initiatives are the 2019 Energy Master Plan, 2020 New Jersey Global Warming Response Act 80 x 50 Report and the New Jersey Protecting Against Climate Threats (NJ PACT) regulatory reforms.
Historically, New Jersey was one of the first states in the nation to adopt an air pollution control law with the 1954 passage of the New Jersey Air Pollution Control Act, which established the framework for the state’s air pollution standards and goals.
While the Murphy Administration continues taking steps to protect public health and reduce air pollution across New Jersey, residents are encouraged to follow some simple common-sense tips to help improve air quality in their communities. These tips include:
- Purchasing an electric car when in the market for a new vehicle.
- Using alternative transportation options such as NJ TRANSIT, ridesharing, bicycling, walking and choosing a work-from-home option, when possible, to limit emissions.
- Switching to renewable energy for home and business energy generation and use, such as solar or wind.
- Avoiding the use of spray paints, which can become airborne, and using paint brushes and rollers instead.
- Using paints and cleaning products with little or no Volatile Organic Compounds, which are emitted as gases that can persist in the air long after application. Use water-based products when possible.
- Buying only the quantities to be used when it comes to paints, adhesives and caulks.
- Disposing unused chemicals stored in homes and garages. Check with local hazardous waste collection sites for disposal guidelines.
For more information about the DEP’s Air Quality, Energy and Sustainability Program, visit www.nj.gov/dep/daq/
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is dedicated to protecting New Jersey’s environment and public health. The agency prioritizes addressing climate change, protecting New Jersey’s water, revitalizing its communities and managing and promoting its natural and historic resources.
For the most recent information, follow the DEP on Twitter @NewJerseyDEP, Facebook @newjerseydep, Instagram @nj.dep, and LinkedIn @newjerseydep, or visit www.nj.gov/dep.
Follow Commissioner LaTourette on Twitter and Instagram @shawnlatur.