What you can do about air pollution

Green lawn chairs face smoky fire pit in backyard

There are many small, but critical sources of air pollution in our homes and neighborhoods. Such sources — vehicles, construction equipment, lawn mowers, dry cleaners, backyard fires, and auto-body shops — are located where we live and work. Total emissions from these smaller but widespread sources are significantly greater than all the industrial sources in the state combined.

To prevent pollution from these sources, the MPCA provides education, guidance, and incentives for reducing air pollution. We have programs for businesses, cities, nonprofits, and communities that address a range of environmental problems, including air quality.

  1. Drive your car less. Vehicle exhaust is a major source of air pollution in Minnesota. Carpool. Bike. Bus. Telecommute. Electric vehicles. How could you burn less fuel?
  2. Keep your car in good repair. Fix exhaust and oxygen sensor problems ASAP. Check tire pressure monthly.
  3. Turn off your engine. An idling engine creates a hot spot of pollution. Buses and big trucks produce particularly unhealthy exhaust. Parents and teachers can help their schools and daycares develop and implement no-idling policies. MPCA has resources to get started.
  4. Don't burn your garbage. Burning your household garbage is dangerous to your health and our environment, and generally against the law in Minnesota. If you're still using a burn barrel, wood stove, or fire-pit for your trash, it's time for a change. Learn what you can do.
  5. Stop having campfires in the city. Smoky areas resulting from campfires in the city can cause unhealthy conditions for hundreds of people, especially during stagnant weather conditions. Since cities have elevated levels of pollution compared to Greater Minnesota already, please limit the number of campfires you start in urban locations. If you do have a campfire:
    • Keep campfires brief and small--3 feet across or less.
    • Burn only dry fire wood. In the Twin Cities it is illegal to burn any waste in a fire, even yard waste.
    • Never start campfires during an air quality alert. You can receive texts or emails when air pollution alerts are in effect.
  6. Plant and care for trees. Trees filter pollutants and absorb carbon dioxide. Trees also release oxygen into the atmosphere and help cool our homes. Learn more about the benefits of trees.
  7. Switch to electric or hand-powered lawn equipment. Gas-powered engines like those on lawnmowers and leaf or snow blowers often lack pollution control devices. An hour running a lawn mower can produce nearly the same amount of pollution as a 100-mile car trip! Use hand-powered or electric lawn care equipment instead.
  8. Use less energy. Choose efficient appliances and heating systems. Get an energy audit and follow the advice. Turn off electrical stuff you are not using. It all adds up.
  9. Check your home for radon. Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that seeps into your house from the soil. Get more information about radon and home testing kits from The Minnesota Department of Health.
  10. Become a champion for clean air. Direct local businesses, city offices, and school districts toward the programs available to them (see below); report any concerns you encounter; and share your reasons for doing the things you do with those around you.

Air pollution prevention programs for businesses, nonprofits, and cities

An important part of the MPCA’s work is with partners in the non-profit, for-profit, and governmental sectors to develop innovative, voluntary programs to help Minnesotans reduce their contributions to air pollution. If you are a business owner, would like your city to be involved in improving air quality, or would like to help a new environmental professional get started in their career, you might be interested in the following programs:

GreenStep Cities: City and county officials and other local community members have a role to play in improving air quality. Local governments can help by passing local ordinances, creating incentives for beneficial behaviors, and promoting and educating residents on best practices.

Business assistance: The Small Business Environmental Assistance Program helps Minnesota businesses comply with environmental rules, reduce wastes and emissions, and reduce regulatory obligations.

Funding opportunities for small businesses: Grants and low-interest environmental loans are available to help small businesses meet or exceed environmental regulations.

MPCA Clean Diesel Grants: Financial assistance for clean diesel projects.

Minnesota GreenCorps: An AmeriCorps program coordinated by the MPCA that places members with organizations around the state to address environmental issues, including air quality. Nonprofit, government and school districts are eligible to host members to work on qualified projects.