New Jersey Launches Color-Coded Flag System For Air Quality

By: Follow South Jersey Staff

SOUTH JERSEY – This week, New Jersey is recognizing Air Quality Awareness Week. As part of the observance, the Department of Environmental Protection is launching a user-friendly system of color-coded flags to help keep New Jersey residents and visitors aware of outdoor air quality conditions to reduce exposure to air pollution and improve public health outcomes, according to Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette.

Air Quality Awareness Week Color-Coded Flags PhotoThe New Jersey Air Quality Flag Program is designed to protect public health by encouraging communities and organizations to display a specific flag each day based on that day’s air quality forecast. Each of the five colored flags match the color system of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index, corresponding to potential health impacts and actions to take to reduce possible effects. The program’s aim is to advise the public on what, if any, precautions they should take while outdoors, based on the day’s air quality.

NJDEP’s color-coded flag system that indicates air quality. Photo credit: NJDEP.

“Information is power, and it is our job to help empower all New Jersey communities to protect their health and environment,” Commissioner LaTourette said in a press release from the department. “This easy-to-follow Air Quality system is yet another tool from the Murphy Administration to protect and improve the health and well-being of all New Jersey communities. When our fellow residents are well-informed about air quality conditions, they can take the necessary precautions, like reducing certain outdoor activities, during poor air quality circumstances.”

This year’s theme for Air Quality Awareness Week in New Jersey is “Be Air Aware & Prepared” and will feature outreach messages each day. Air Quality Awareness Week coincides with the beginning of the ozone season, a time of year when outdoor ozone levels can reach unhealthy levels.

Ozone can bring on asthma attacks and adversely affect the health of sensitive individuals, including those with respiratory and heart issues, older adults, young children and people who are active outdoors. Ground-level ozone is a respiratory irritant formed by the interaction of certain pollutants and sunshine. Ground-level ozone has been linked to cardiovascular disease and premature death. It remains the most persistent criteria pollutant problem in New Jersey and the northeastern United States.

People sensitive to adverse air quality should be mindful of symptoms including coughing and shortness of breath, which are signs to take things easier. While outdoors, consider the following:

  • Reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion;
  • Take more breaks.
  • Shorten the length and intensity of any physical activity;
  • Schedule outdoor activities in the morning when exposure to ozone is less intense;
  • Seek medical assistance, if necessary.

Organizations that participate in the colored-flag program will receive daily air quality forecasts between 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. via an email or text alert system known as Enviroflash. The air quality forecast will be based on the Air Quality Index, which reports daily air quality levels for ozone and fine particulate matter, or PM2.5. New Jersey’s air quality levels are compared with the pollutant’s National Ambient Air Quality Standard.

After receiving the forecast, participants will display the corresponding flag to alert their community about current air quality conditions:

GREEN: Good air quality;

YELLOW: Moderate air quality;

ORANGE: Unhealthy air quality for sensitive groups such as children, people with respiratory and cardiovascular ailments, people who are active outdoors, and older adults;

RED: Unhealthy air quality;

PURPLE: Very unhealthy air quality.

Air Quality Awareness Week PhotoProgram participants must be in New Jersey. Schools, senior centers, summer camps, and daycare centers are eligible to partner with the DEP and receive free flags and educational materials about the program.

For more information or to sign up for the program, visit

In addition to the flag program, DEP’s Division of Air Quality will focus on other air topics throughout the week to educate the public about what the DEP is doing to improve air quality and simple actions the public can take to help further reduce air pollution:

Tuesday, May 3: Regional Haze and Visibility;

Wednesday, May 4: Renewable Energy – Solar, Wind;

Thursday, May 5: Clean Transportation

Friday, May 6: Environmental Justice and Air Quality.

The introduction of the Air Quality Flag Program continues New Jersey’s suite of initiatives to improve air quality and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from air pollution that cause climate change. Among recent key initiatives are the 2019 Energy Master Plan, 2020 New Jersey Global Warming Response Act 80 x 50 Report and the New Jersey Protecting Against Climate Threats (NJ PACT) regulatory reforms.

Historically, New Jersey was one of the first states in the nation to adopt an air pollution control law with the 1954 passage of the New Jersey Air Pollution Control Act, which established the framework for the state’s air pollution standards and goals.

The Murphy Administration encourages residents to follow some simple common-sense tips to help improve air quality in their communities. These tips include:

  • Purchasing an electric car when in the market for a new vehicle;
  • Using alternative transportation options such as NJ TRANSIT, ridesharing, bicycling, walking and choosing a work-from-home option when possible, to limit emissions;
  • Switching to renewable energy for home and business energy generation and use, such as solar or wind;
  • Avoiding the use of spray paints, which can become airborne, and using paint brushes and rollers instead;
  • Using paints and cleaning products with little or no Volatile Organic Compounds, which are emitted as gasses that can persist in the air long after application. Use water-based products when possible;
  • Buying only the quantities to be used when it comes to paints, adhesives and caulks;
  • Disposing unused chemicals stored in homes and garages. Check with local hazardous waste collection sites for disposal guidelines.

For more information about the DEP’s  Air Quality, Energy and Sustainability Program, visit

Follow South Jersey provides local journalism which highlights our diverse communities; fosters transparency through robust, localized, and vital reporting that holds leaders and institutions accountable; addresses critical information needs; supports people in navigating civic life; and equips people with the information necessary to partake in effective community engagement. If there is a story or event you think we should cover, please send your tips to with “NEWS” in the subject line.