IT MAY JUST BE that we're a year older than we were the last time we brought up this subject, but when the air "quality" index tops 100, we really fell it. Fortunately, there haven't been many gag-days so far, though last Tuesday the index did hit 110 - that's deemed "very unhealthy" by the Metropolitan Washignton Council of Governments, which does the monitoring for theis region. What's no less troubling in its way is that we haven't heard much about the index this year, even though the reports are of general interest and of special importance to people with respiratory problems.

Time was when the telephone weather people would slip you the word on the AQI, at least when the readings reached hazardous levels. But this year, they haven't always bothered. Only certain radio and television weather reports and the newspapers have been including some regular index readings. On the phone company's weather report, they tell the odds on rain, they hazard a guess on what it may be like on the day after tomorrow, and they tick off the temperature in two tongues, the relative humidity, the speed and direction of the wind and the barometric pressure. But it would help if they regularly said something about how well you'll be able to breathe if you step outside.

The National Weather Service provides the weather information for those phone reports, and therein, we're told, lies the hangup. The weather service hasn't been at all eager to include in its reports the AQI readings that come from the Council of Governments. So only occasionally, when the air has been especially awful, have COG and the phone company slipped in the numbers for you. But you should be able to call up and find out as well that the air isn't so bad. The bureaucrats now appear to be relenting, and the truth-in-air squads at COG and the phone company may be about to work out some agreement with the weather service. But don't hold your breath - unless you learn through some other source that you'd best do so.