Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Crescent City Connection and New Orleans skyline including the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. File photos of aerials of New Orleans area and landmarks shot July 23, 2013.

New Orleans and surrounding areas are under an air quality alert for much of the day Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

The alert, which began at 6 a.m. and ends at midnight, is in effect for Orleans, Jefferson, Lafourche, St. John the Baptist, St. Charles, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, Terrebonne and Plaquemines parishes.

The air quality index has the ozone at the orange level, which is unhealthy for certain groups. Children and adults engaging in active behavior, the elderly and anyone with respiratory diseases should avoid prolonged outdoor exertion.

Air Quality Index

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Air Quality Index (AQI) focuses on health effects that may be experienced within a few hours or days after breathing polluted air and uses a normalized scale from 0 to 500

More from the NWS

Take whatever voluntary steps you can to reduce emissions that contribute to ozone formation.

Drive less and make sure your automobile is in good working condition.

Make sure your gas cap is tight.

Wait until after 6 p.m. to refuel your vehicle and use gas-powered lawn equipment.

More information about current air quality and what you can do to help prevent ozone formation is available at the DEQ website