Air quality could force change in Sunday’s Cardinals-49ers game

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The Air Quality Index in Santa Clara has gotten worse, not better.

As of 7:00 p.m. ET, the AQI in Santa Clara was at 199 due to wildfires in the aea. That’s only one point below the level at which the NFL would deem the conditions unsafe. (Earlier in the day, it was above 200.)

Conditions and forecasts have changed dramatically for the area in the past day. As of Thursday, the AQI was expected to be in the 80s for Sunday.

The NFL’s policy on this issue reads as follows:

“Air quality is an important aspect of a safe game day environment. Many factors can affect air quality including temperature, humidity, local pollution from combustion engines, wildfires, volcanic activity, and industrial accidents. The biggest health risk occurs when levels of particulate matter rise to a level that can irritate the airways and cause breathing problems, especially during exercise.

“The most widely accepted scientific assessment measure for air quality is the Air Quality Index (‘AQI’). Medical experts have generally agreed that an AQI that consistently measures over 200 in the immediate vicinity of the stadium signifies very unhealthy conditions in which vigorous exercise is not recommended. The AQI is easily measured and widely available to the public through media sources.

“The NFL Football Operations department will initiate contingency planning when smoke from an extensive fire or other pollutants present a significant health risk to an area in, or in close proximity of, an NFL stadium hosting a game. The NFL Football Operations department will monitor the website http://AirNow.Gov, which provides real-time AQI data and was developed by the EPA and other federal and state agencies. In addition to the http://AirNow.Gov website, the NFL Football Operations department will consult with their contracted weather service and agencies within the affected area and will obtain hourly AQI measurements from the instruments those agencies use to measure AQI. In many instances, local air quality fluctuates based on meteorological conditions. NFL Football Operations will also consult with the NFL Chief Medical Officer and other medical consultants as may be deemed
helpful to get medical input on the air conditions and potential medical implications. Accordingly, NFL Football Operations will work closely with the home club and local authorities and will be prepared to relocate a game if there is definitive evidence that the AQI will remain consistently above 200 for a significant period of time, including the day of the game being played in the affected stadium.”

Coach Kyle Shanahan addressed the situation during a Friday press conference.

“I try not to worry about things I’m not involved in,” Shanahan said. “So I’m just trying to get our team ready to play this game. I’m sure that the NFL has had some discussions with other people, not any coaches, I don’t think. Not [Arizona Cardinals coach] Kliff [Kingsbury] or I. So we’re just getting ready for this game. If it is at 200, I know that’s when they’ll decide whether we play or not, how to go forward with that, but I’m not really sure of the contingency plans.”

The easiest fix would entail flipping home games, sending the contest to Arizona with the Week 16 rematch happening in Santa Clara. However, that would put the 49ers on the road for the first three games of the season, and it would result in four of five home games to end the season. Likewise, it would give the Cardinals three straight home games to start the season, and five of the last seven games on the road.

Another possibility (as we see it) would be to move the game to Monday night, when a lower AQI is in the forecast.