Life and Breath report

Air pollution continues to harm our health.

Lineup of vehicles on a highway roadOverall air quality in Minnesota has slowly improved since 2008 and currently meets federal standards. Unfortunately, even low and moderate levels of pollution can contribute to serious illnesses and early death.

Scientists from the MPCA and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) have taken an in-depth look at how the air pollution in several of Minnesota’s largest cities affects the people living in them. The two-part report Life and Breath (2022) examines the seven-county Twin Cities metro area as well as Duluth, Rochester, and St. Cloud.

The current edition of the report follows earlier editions from 2019 and 2015.

What do we know?

We estimate the impact on health using the most current outdoor air quality data available (from 2015), matched with available death records and hospital and emergency department admission data.

We found that air pollution played a role in 10% of all deaths (about 1,600 people) in the Twin Cities metro, along with nearly 500 hospitalizations and emergency room visits for heart and lung problems.

Meanwhile, in Greater Minnesota, air pollution played a role in:

  • 8% of all deaths in Duluth and about 13 hospitalizations and emergency room visits
  • 10% of all deaths in Rochester and about 20 hospitalizations and emergency room visits
  • 8% of all deaths in St. Cloud and about 15 hospitalizations and emergency room visits

The effects of air pollution fall unevenly on Minnesotans

In all of the cities studied in the report, the highest estimated rates of death and disease related to air pollution were in communities with higher percentages of:

  • Low-income residents
  • Uninsured residents
  • Residents of color
  • Residents living with a disability

Structural inequities contribute to these communities having higher existing rates of heart and lung conditions. Systemic racism, housing insecurity, discrimination in health care, and other social and economic factors make communities more susceptible to the effects of poor air quality.

Air pollution comes from many sources

Fine particles and ground-level ozone are the two types of air pollutants most likely to affect people's health and make existing heart and lung conditions worse. We release fine particles when we burn gasoline, diesel, or wood. They can also form when gaseous pollutants react in the air. Ground-level ozone forms through chemical reactions of molecules already in the air, such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Dig into the data

Check out the Minnesota Public Health Data Access portal at the Minnesota Department of Health for more detail on the findings:

How can we all do better?

Every Minnesotan can do something to help improve our air quality. Here are some actions you can take:

  • Drive the most fuel-efficient vehicle you can afford.
  • Take public transportation, walk, or bike whenever possible.
  • Limit wood-burning activities like backyard bonfires.
  • Use electric lawnmowers and weed trimmers rather than gas-based options.

Learn why you should care about air pollution and its effect on your health.