NYC Air Quality Index monitoring the newest Big Apple obsession

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Before last Wednesday, Lizzie Stoldt, a 27-year-old Manhattan publicist, had barely given a thought to New York City’s air quality.

“I had heart surgery when I was younger, and even I had no idea air quality was something I should be concerned with,” she said. 

But as the skies turned smoky over the Big Apple last week, she started closely monitoring the AQI — air quality index — on her iPhone.

She was shocked when it went over 200 and eventually went past 400. (The Environmental Protection Agency defines a healthy range as 0 to 50 and moderate as 51-100.)

“I felt like I smoked an entire pack of cigarettes, and it was validating to see the numbers,” she said. “I was like, “It’s not just me. The air is just really really bad.’” 

In recent days, skies have been blue and the AQI has been in the good or moderate range. But, experts warn that the wildfire smoke could return this weekend.


New Yorkers were alarmed by the orange skies that overtook the city last week, as wildfires raged hundreds of miles away in Canada.
New Yorkers were alarmed by the orange skies that overtook the city last week, as wildfires raged hundreds of miles away in Canada.
Brian Zak/NY Post

A New Yorker covers their mouth while standing outside on June 7, 2023.
A New Yorker covers their mouth while standing outside on June 7, 2023.
Ron Adar / M10s / SplashNews.com

Stoldt isn’t going to be caught off guard this time. She’s been carefully monitoring the air quality daily.

“It’s just been built into the routine now. Open the weather app, check the temperature, check the air quality,” she said. “I can pull out my mask now if I need to … If it happens during the week I will use it as an excuse to work from home instead of walking through the smoke to get to work.”

New Yorkers are suddenly keenly aware of something those in the West have been aware of for years — air quality and how it can be suddenly and drastically affected by far-off wildfires.

Vigilant Gothamites are now monitoring the AQI as carefully as they do the chance of rain on a summer Saturday.

AirNow, an app run by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, gained 7.8 million new users last week — 1.7 million of them were from New York City, according to a report.


AirNow, an app run by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, gained 7.8 million new users last week — 1.7 million of them were from New York City, according to a report.
AirNow, an app run by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, gained 7.8 million new users last week — 1.7 million of them were from New York City, according to a report.

“I’m up checking air quality like a maniac,” tweeted social media user @stephginette from Brooklyn, at 5 a.m. 

“Now, every time I smell a barbecue outside, I’m checking my phone for air quality,” admitted another, Mike Faraca, who lives in New Jersey. 

Will Gregory, 33, who works in tech and lives in the West Village, got a gadget from IKEA that monitors temperature, humidity and air quality in his home.

He’s been fascinated by watching the numbers fluctuate, he told The Post.

“The highest it got last week on Wednesday was 195, but that was nothing compared to me cooking yesterday,” Gregory said, surprised. “I put some oil in a pan and got distracted. It burned and the numbers went up to 655.” 

He’s watching the numbers going into the weekend.


Will Gregory checks up on the AQI in his West Village apartment.
Will Gregory checks up on the AQI in his West Village apartment.
Daniel William McKnight for N.Y. Post

“If it keeps getting bad inside I will have to buy an air purifier,” he said.

During “normal” days, when smokey skies don’t make the news, he is hesitant to tell people, especially strangers he meets at the bar, that he is tracking the air pollution in his apartment.

“It’s not really a topic that comes up naturally,” he said. 

But, for anyone that asks — he’s got the information at the ready.

“Having the data is cool,” he said.

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