The hype surrounding the Olympic games in Beijing has brought attention to a distressing health topic, namely air pollution and its impact on human health. There are daily updates and concerns about the air quality in Beijing and its effect on the athletes' performance as in this blog entry from the NY Times. New York City, especially in sweltering August, is far from immune to air quality problems. If you want a good resource concerning smog, ozone, and other forms of air pollution and their effect on human health, try this MedlinePlus health topic page which should give you the answers you need.
One of the fairly recent developments is the attempt to rate air quality so individuals can judge how dangerous it is to go outside. The Federal Government has set up a website titled AirNow which partners with local health authorities to rank air quality throughout the United States. New York City's ranking can be located here and is updated daily. The color-coded rankings are based on the Air Quality Index (AQI) which is designed by the EPA. The EPA has even created a brochure that tells you what they measure and how it relates to the colors. Watch out for maroon!
Air quality, of course, is just one of many environmental hazards to our health. If you have Adobe flash on your PC you might want to take a surreal, disturbing, yet informative stroll through Tox Town and find the myriad places and substances that can be a hazard. Tox Town, brought to you by the National Library of Medicine, uses a graphical interface so you can stroll through several environments, click on an area of interest and learn about the environmental health concerns associated with them. Be careful out there.