Outdoor Air Quality

clouds in the sky

Outdoor air pollutants can affect health. They can cause short-term symptoms like shortness of breath or coughing. They can also play a role in causing diseases like asthma or respiratory illnesses.

Check your outdoor air quality

Visit our page to learn what to do if your air quality is unhealthy.

Dane County Air Quality

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) measures air quality. The highest rating they give is “good,” and most days our air quality is at this level.

  • Dane County air quality is consistent. Almost 80% of air quality measurements in the past 10 years were at the “good” level.
  • When we have had poor air quality, the primary causes were high levels of ozone or fine particulate matter, or from wildfire smoke from other areas.
  • You can find other information on the Healthy Dane Dashboard.

Sources of Air Pollutants

There are many things in the air we breathe that cause pollution. In Dane County we are mostly concerned with ozone and particulate matter.


  • Ground level ozone is created when exhaust from cars and businesses mixes with other chemicals in the air. Breathing it can cause health problems. This mostly occurs during sunny and warm conditions, like in summer.

Particulate Matter

  • Particulate matter is tiny pieces of dust, dirt and other materials in the air we breathe.
  • Breathing particulate matter can be bad for your heart and lungs.
  • When there is a lot of it, it can make the air look dirty, hazy, or brown.

Other Air Pollutants

  • Gas and diesel vehicles produce air pollutants like benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and 1,3-butadiene.
  • Wood burning stoves and fireplaces contribute to indoor and outdoor air pollution. Read the health risks from wood smoke and outdoor wood boilers. 
  • Air pollutants from places outside of Dane County can also affect our air quality. Many air pollutants can travel long distances, including wildfire smoke. They can cause ozone or fine particulate problems in areas with low amounts of air pollution.

Outdoor Air Quality and Your Health

Breathing in ozone or particulate matter can cause:

  • throat irritation
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • chest pain
  • asthma attacks
  • worsening of other health conditions.

Air pollutants can also play a role in causing asthma, other respiratory illnesses, and cardiovascular diseases.

Older adults, children, and people with certain health conditions like asthma, emphysema, and heart and lung conditions should be careful when air quality is poor.

How to Protect Yourself

Check the Daily Air Quality Index

Download an air quality app on your phone.

Take Action When Air Quality is Poor

If the air quality index is orange, reduce physical exertion and the amount of time spent outside.​​​
If the air quality index is red or worse, avoid prolonged or heavy exertion. If you use an inhaler, keep it with you.

You Can Help Improve Our Air Quality

  • Whenever possible: walk, bike, skate, bus, or car pool instead of driving.
  • Buy fuel-efficient vehicles.
  • Save energy at home and work.
  • Buy renewable energy from your utility and use other clean energy alternatives when available.
  • Save energy and reduce exposure to toxic chemicals: use green building techniques.
  • Install solar energy on your home or business to make your own electricity and hot water.
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