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July 14, 2008
Last week was particularly bad for my asthma and allergies—itchy eyes, shortness of breath, an allergic rash on my arm, an extra hit or two from my emergency inhaler. So I was intrigued when I saw an E-mail announcing the launch of a new website, Azma.com, which claims to be able to provide a four-day air quality forecast of when spending too much time outside might be bothersome.
Surveillance Data Inc., a medical data company whose clients include pharmaceutical companies, operates the site and also runs Pollen.com, which provides four-day pollen predictions by ZIP code. "What we're trying to do is give people timely information to prepare themselves and take care of themselves," says Gerry Kress, senior adviser at Surveillance Data. The format of Azma.com, which launched June 30, is similar: Users enter their ZIP codes and get a four-day forecast of air quality levels in their areas, based on a proprietary formula that takes into account five major air pollutants, including ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. For instance, upon entering the ZIP code for my employer in the Georgetown section of Washington, I learned that Thursday's air quality forecast was in the "moderate" range, but the outlook for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday was "poor" for all three days. The logical takeaway: I needed to avoid any strenuous outdoor exercise over the weekend, keep my windows closed, and crank up the air conditioning.