Who is most at risk from air pollution?

Many studies show that people with lower socio-economic status and minority populations are disproportionately exposed to air pollution and are more vulnerable to adverse health impacts. Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) data show disparities in heart and lung disease by age, race/ethnicity, income level, and geography.

Who is most at risk from air pollution?

  • People with lung diseases, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Infants and young children
  • People who work or exercise outdoors
  • Adults 65 years old and older
  • People with a cardiovascular disease
  • People in poverty; people who lack access to health care
  • People who smoke or are exposed to second-hand smoke
  • People working in occupations where there is high exposure to contaminated air

The dangers of living near traffic

Studies have shown that people who live, work, or attend school near major roads have an increased incidence and severity of health problems, including asthma, cardiovascular disease, low birth weight, pre-term newborns, reduced lung function and impaired lung development in children, and premature death.

Areas within 1,000 to 1,600 feet from highways and other major roads are most impacted by traffic-related pollution. An estimated 30% to 45% of people in large North American cities live within such zones. The MDH Public Health Data Access portal provides traffic exposure estimates for every Minnesota census tract, zip code and county. These data help inform work to address those areas that have higher levels of traffic that can lead to more health concerns.

About 10-15% of passenger vehicles — older, dirtier vehicles — are responsible for more than 50% of fine particle emissions from on-road vehicles. Identifying and repairing or retiring these high-polluting vehicles would have a positive impact on both local and regional air quality.

Even moderate pollution levels affect health

Air quality in Minnesota and the Twin Cities metro area currently meets air quality standards, but even low and moderate levels of air pollution can affect the heart and lungs and contribute to serious health effects and early death. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) data show levels of fine particles and other pollutants are elevated in the Twin Cities metro area and other Minnesota cities.

Air pollution and health in the Twin Cities

Life and breath: How air pollution affects public health in the Twin Cities (2015) — is a report that analyzed air quality data from the MPCA and health data from the MDH to estimate the effects of air pollution on health outcomes for people in the seven-county metro area in each zip code. The study found that:

  • About 6-13% of all metro residents who died, and about 2-5% of all metro residents who visited the hospital or emergency room for heart and lung problems, did so partly because of exposure to fine particles in the air or ground-level ozone.
  • Groups most affected by air pollution were populations with higher rates of heart and lung disease, including people of color, the elderly, children with uncontrolled asthma, and people in poverty.

See the Life and Breath report

Asthma in Minnesota

Asthma is a chronic disease that can be affected by air pollution. For more information, see the following topics on the Minnesota Department of Health website: