We live by the numbers. We gauge our physical health by such measures as cholesterol and blood levels, and our fiscal health by credit scores. College aptitude? There’s a score for that.
And now there’s a new number to help fathom our personal well-being — this one calibrating the health of the environment in which we live.
Researchers at the University of Maine have assembled an interactive website called 10Green.org that rates the air quality of locations in the U.S. on a 1-to-10 scale. Enter a zip code or name of a city or town and up pops the environmental health score for that location, based on 10 categories of pollutants in the air. The higher the score, the healthier the air.
The goal of the website is to make people aware of the quality of the air they breathe, according to UMaine Climate Change Institute Director Paul Mayewski.
“We feel it’s as critical for people to understand the air quality where they live as it is for them to know their credit rating or their blood pressure,” says Mayewski, who oversaw 10Green along with Sudarshan Chawathe, a UMaine associate professor of computer science and a cooperating associate professor in the Climate Change Institute; and Andrei Kurbatov, assistant research professor in the Climate Change Institute and the Department of Earth Sciences.
“We want people to realize that while we have done a lot in this country and we are a leader in terms of air quality legislation, there are places where things may not be better, may have gotten worse, or for which there is no way to assess whether it is better or worse. It’s a very important health issue for the public and we want to draw attention to this.”
The Climate Change Institute’s interest in providing information about air quality stems from its world-renowned work on ice cores. The cores have allowed UMaine researchers to demonstrate dramatic long-term changes in the effects of pollutants on the atmosphere. In particular through their research, UMaine climate change scientists have developed an understanding of how air quality has changed over time, back thousands of years.
“We all understand that there are strong associations between air, water and food quality, and our health,” says Mayewski, who spearheaded 10Green with the support of the Portland, Maine-based communications agency Garrand. “You can drink clean water if you choose to and you pay for it. You can select the types of foods that you eat. But you cannot escape the air, which is why we are focusing on air quality.”
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