The air we breathe

The MPCA is responsible for understanding the condition of Minnesota's air and working to ensure it is healthy for Minnesotans to breathe. The MPCA's biennial report on air quality, titled The air we breathe, summarizes Minnesota's air quality and our work to protect it. This is what we know about the air we breathe.

 

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Minnesota generally enjoys good air quality

Minnesota is fortunate to enjoy good air quality. Statewide, our air meets all federal standards and nearly all health benchmarks. Overall pollution levels have been going down and this trend is expected to continue. Since passage of the federal Clean Air Act in 1970, a combination of regulation, technology and process improvements, as well as growing awareness of the health impacts of air pollution, have combined to achieve dramatic air pollution reductions.


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Air pollution affects our health, ecosystems, and economy

Clean air is a basic requirement for human health. Air pollution can worsen many health conditions. Even levels of air pollution that meet standards can affect people’s health, and scientists are finding health effects at lower levels than we previously realized. Having good air quality means fewer missed work and school days and less money spent on air pollution-related illness. It also supports the ecosystems that Minnesotans value, and provides the foundation for a growing economy.


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Poor air quality contributes to health disparities

Air quality is not the same in all parts of Minnesota and doesn’t affect all Minnesotans equally. People in some areas either experience pollution levels that, while within federal standards, are nonetheless high enough to worsen serious health conditions or are exposed to pollutants that don’t have federal standards. In addition, health inequities mean some populations are more susceptible to the harmful effects of air pollution. People of color, indigenous people, and lower-income individuals often do not have adequate access to the conditions that support healthy living, including quality schooling, healthcare, and clean surroundings. When equitable access to these is limited, poor air quality often contributes to, and worsens, health disparities.


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Most of our air pollution is from vehicles and mobile equipment

Typically, people associate air pollution with facilities that have big smokestacks, like power plants and factories. Emissions from large facilities have gone down significantly in the past 30 years due to regulations and technology improvements. Today, these sources make up a relatively small part of Minnesota’s air pollution emissions, about a fifth of overall emissions in the state. Most of the air pollution in Minnesota comes from sources that are smaller individually, but combine to make a big impact. Vehicles and other mobile equipment account for about half of overall emissions. The rest comes from “neighborhood” sources such as home heating, drycleaners, and backyard fires that are in all of our communities.


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We need to find creative, voluntary ways of reducing emissions

State and federal laws and regulations have cut pollution significantly, but regulation isn’t always the best solution to complex air quality challenges. As well as regulating large facilities, MPCA pursues creative ways of reducing emissions from the many less regulated or unregulated sources across Minnesota. The MPCA works with partners to achieve voluntary emissions reductions from many of these sources.


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We need to learn more about personal-level exposure

MPCA operates a statewide network of air monitors designed to determine if Minnesota’s air quality meets federal standards, but air quality may vary significantly in localized spots between those monitors. For example, air quality near certain facilities in neighborhoods may be poorer than what is represented by network monitors. Increasingly, Minnesotans want to know more about what’s in the air where they live, work, and play. To learn more, the MPCA has undertaken a number of special air monitoring projects.


A note on climate change

Minnesota’s climate is changing rapidly, and these changes – driven largely by human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) – are affecting our health, well-being, ways of life, and natural resources. Minnesota has been and will remain a leader in GHG emission trends, but without continued support and additional effort, we are not likely to achieve the GHG reduction goals of the Next Generation Energy Act. To learn more about GHG emissions and Minnesota’s work to achieve our reduction goals, explore the MPCA’s latest report:

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