Air Quality

Air Quality Monitoring for Our City

A nurse helps a child use an inhaler.

The City of Madison is leading a new collaborative project to install a city-wide network of air quality sensors to help understand air pollution in our community. These sensors will measure particulate matter pollution - small particles that can cause heart and breathing problems. Once installed, air quality data from the network will help our community understand the amount, location, and potential sources of particulate matter pollution. Better information about air quality will help us know when to take action to protect our health and help our community develop strategies to reduce pollution where it is highest. The City is partnering with The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness, Latino Health Council of Dane County, The Hmong Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Public Health Madison and Dane County. This work is funded by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Want to learn more and get involved?

  • The Hmong Institute will host an Open House on Tuesday, April 23 from 10:00 am – 12:00 pm, at 4402 Femrite Drive. If you have any questions, please send an email to

What is particulate matter?

Particulate matter, or PM, is tiny pieces of dust, dirt, and other materials in the air we breathe. Particulate matter pollution comes from a variety of sources. It can be emitted directly into the air from sources like wood stoves, forest fires, or blowing dust. It can also be created when other pollutants like nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), organic carbon or ammonia chemically react to form fine particles. Sources of these precursor pollutants include fossil fuel combustion in vehicles and power plants, as well as some industrial processes. Most of the time, vehicles are the main source of particulate matter in Madison.

Aerial view of downtown Madison on a day with poor air quality (left) and good air quality (right).
The photo on the left was taken on a day with dangerously high levels of particulate matter pollution, when the air appears hazy and brown. The photo on the right is from a good air quality day with no reduced visibility.

Particulate matter is bad for our health

Fine particles, those 2.5 microns or less (PM 2.5), are particularly dangerous to our health. When inhaled, these small particles can travel deep into our lungs and some may even enter the bloodstream, where they affect our lungs and heart. Exposure to fine particles can cause short-term health effects like eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, coughing, sneezing, runny nose and shortness of breath. Long term exposure affects lung function and worsens medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease. Across the US and in Wisconsin, data shows that communities of color and low-income communities face greater exposure to particulate matter and higher rates of lung and heart problems.

Check out these resources on local air quality

Public Health Madison and Dane County is a great resource for more information about indoor and outdoor air quality. Visit their page to learn more about indoor and outdoor air pollutants in our area and how they can affect health. They also provided information about how to protect your health.

Visit EPA's AirNow Tool to check air quality in your area. It ranks local air quality based on the Air Quality Index, or AQI. This color-coded scale ranks air quality from 0 (good) to 300+ (hazardous). You can download the AIRNow App on your phone.

Take Action When Air Quality is Poor

If the Air Quality Index is 100 (orange) or above, the air is unhealthy to breathe. Take the following steps to stay safe:

  1. Stay inside as much as possible, and take steps to keep your indoor air clean.
    • Keep windows closed.
    • Avoid frying food or burning candles.
    • Run air conditioning on recirculate if possible.
    • Use an air purifier if available
  2. If you have to go outside, take precautions.
    • Wear a tightfitting mask like an N95 or KN95.
    • Don’t engage in strenuous activity.
    • Change your clothes when you get home.
  3. Monitor your health.
    • If you have a respiratory condition, like asthma, watch out for difficulty breathing or intense coughing.
    • If you use an inhaler, keep it with you.
    • Follow your doctor's directions about taking your medicines and following your asthma management plan. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
    • Know the warning signs of heart attack and stroke. If you feel symptoms, even if they go away, stop your activity and seek medical help immediately!
Was this page helpful to you?