Air quality in Minnesota: 2013 report to the Legislature

PDF icon Air Quality in Minnesota - 2013 Report to the Legislature

Overall air quality in Minnesota has improved over the past 20 years, but current levels of air pollution are still of concern.

Why is air quality important?

Minnesota has a good record of complying with federal air quality standards; nearly all areas of the state have met standards since 2002. It is important for the health of Minnesotans and the economy of Minnesota to continue to meet these standards.

Minnesota's air quality is improving despite increases in population and economic activity.

Exceeding a federal ambient air standard would require Minnesota to adopt strict and expensive new air quality regulations to reduce air pollution levels. If PM2.5 and ozone are reduced, we could expect to save more than $2 billion in healthcare costs.

Key points

  1. Although urban air quality is generally good, levels of fine particles and other pollutants are elevated in the Twin Cities metropolitan area and other Minnesota cities, compared to most of Greater Minnesota.
  2. Researchers continue to find serious health effects at ever-lower levels of air pollution.
  3. As more stringent standards are adopted, Minnesota becomes more likely to not meet the revised thresholds. Taking actions to ensure Minnesota meets the standards may be especially challenging because poor air quality days occur for complex reasons, including forces such as weather patterns, pollutant mixing, and pollution coming in from other states.
  4. Past work to improve air quality has focused on large individual sources of pollution. Continuing to meet new standards and protecting human health will require looking at sources that are individually small, but collectively important.

Challenges and action areas

Point sources are becoming a smaller part of the air quality problems in Minnesota

Non-point sources are becoming more important. Point sources that are traditionally regulated (factories, power plants) are becoming a smaller part of Minnesota's air concerns.

The majority of the air pollutants of most concern today come from smaller widespread sources that are not regulated in the way power plants and factories are. These non-point sources include cars, trucks, construction equipment, residential wood burning, and residential garbage burning. The current regulatory structure will not help much with pollution from these sources.

In addition to its ongoing efforts involving point sources, the MPCA is focusing on strategies to reduce emissions or human exposure from several nonpoint sources:

  • Residential wood burning
  • Residential garbage burning
  • Stationary diesel generators
  • Mobile sources, both on-road vehicles and off-road vehicles and equipment
  • Mercury emissions sources

Targeted efforts will help fulfill the agency's strategic plan goals of improving ambient air and to address changing federal air regulations. Progress will require an increased need for partnerships and will be multi-pollutant.