Air Quality Alert: What ‘Code Orange’ means for you


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)- The Knoxville area and several surrounding counties are under a Code Orange Air Quality Alert, according to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

The state department issues the alert when ozone levels, or smog levels, rise above federal standards, posing health risks for certain people.

The Environmental Protection Agency set the national air quality standard to 100 on the Air Quality Index (AQI).

Anything below 100 is relatively healthy air quality and anything above increases health risks.

TDEC forecasts the air quality level for Thursday to reach 101, enacting the Code Orange alert.

It’s the first air quality alert of the year.

According to Dr. Martha Buchanan, director of the Knox County Health Department, Code Orange means those with chronic lung or heart illnesses, children and the elderly might experience health issues due to the ozone.

“This is going to make your lungs and heart have to work a little bit harder. So, if your lungs and heart aren’t as healthy as they could be, then you’re going to notice this more and have more trouble,” Buchanan said.

According to AIRNow, exposure to ozone can make the lungs more susceptible to infection, aggravate lung diseases, increase the frequency of asthma attacks, and increase the risk of early death from heart or lung disease.

She said the average person might not notice the difference of air quality, but people who enjoy exercising outside might.

Buchanan said runners might have a harder time breathing outside than usual.

“The average person is just going to feel a little bit more short of breath. So, that might mean you reduce your pace, or you do a shorter run or maybe you go inside and get on the treadmill,” Buchanan explained.

Buchanan said an AQI forecast of 101 wouldn’t necessarily have long-term effects on the average person.

She said if someone experiences shortness of breath or coughing after being outside, they should go inside an air-conditioned area and breath clean air.

Buchanan said if the symptoms persist after getting clean air, they should see a doctor.

While under a Code Orange alert, Buchanan said people should take precautions to reduce emissions that increase ozone.

Open burning is banned while under the air quality alert.

People can drive less or car pool, not mow the lawn and even refrain from grilling.

AIRNow also lists these steps to reduce ozone:

  • Turn off lights you are not using
  • Drive less: carpool, use public transportation, bike or walk
  • Keep your engine tuned, and don’t let your engine idle
  • When refueling: stop when the pump shuts off, avoid spilling fuel, and tighten your gas cap
  • Inflate tires to the recommended pressure
  • Use low-VOC paint and cleaning products, and seal and store them so they can’t evaporate

For current air quality conditions, visit the AIRNow website here.

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