Air quality and health

Chart displaying health effects from air pollution: asthma, cardiovascularExposure to air pollution can affect everyone’s health. Impacts range from relatively minor annoyances such as coughing or itching eyes, to far more severe impacts such as emergency room visits and hospital admissions, cancer, or even premature death. Minnesota’s air currently meets all the federal health standards. However, even levels of air pollution below the standards can impact people’s health, including current levels found in the Twin Cities.

What are the health effects from air pollution?

Both short-term and long-term exposure to air pollution can cause a variety of health problems. For people with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), air pollution can make it harder to breathe, trigger asthma attacks, or cause wheezing and coughing. For everyone, air pollution also increases the risk of respiratory infections, heart disease, stroke, and cancer, and more severely affects people who are already ill.

Young child with inhalerWho is affected by air pollution?

Breathing polluted air can affect anyone. On days when concentrations of air pollution are particularly high, almost everyone might experience coughing or itchy eyes. Some people experience more impacts from air pollution than others. People with pre-existing heart and lung conditions are at greater risk. So are the elderly. Children are more vulnerable to exposure to pollutants because their lungs are still developing and they spend more time outdoors playing sports and at recess.

Air pollution can also trouble people who are active outdoors, even healthy adults. People who work or recreate outdoors can spend hours outside or breathe hard during a workout. Both increase the amount of pollution their lungs are exposed to.

Additionally, many studies show that communities of lower socio-economic status and people of color are disproportionately exposed to air pollution and are more vulnerable to its adverse health impacts. The relationships between air pollution and health effects are multiple and complex. Health inequities are the result of many interlinked factors including societal conditions that systematically disadvantage some groups of people compared to others.

How are people exposed to air pollution?

No matter where you live, you can be exposed to air pollution. The type and amount of exposure varies depending on your location, the time of day, and even the weather. Exposure to air pollution is higher near pollution sources like busy roadways or wood-burning equipment. Many of our daily activities expose us to higher levels of air pollution. Idling cars, gas-fueled yard equipment, and chemicals we use in our homes all contribute to overall air pollution and expose us to harmful air pollutants.

Want the full report? 

Learn more about our work to ensure air pollution levels in Minnesota are low enough to protect against health risks from short and long-term exposure to air pollution: PDF icon The air we breathe 2017