Clean air means healthier people
Air pollution affects all Minnesotans. Despite growing population and increasing economic activity, Minnesota’s air pollution emissions continue to go down. But even levels of air pollution below the standards can impact people’s health, including current levels found in the Twin Cities.
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. (For a complete look at Minnesota's air quality, see our biennial report, The Air We Breathe.)
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. Children, the elderly, and people with respiratory diseases are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, but even healthy, athletic adults can be harmed by breathing air pollutants. People in lower-income and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to air pollution. The MPCA works to reduce emissions from all sources of air pollution, especially striving to reduce exposures in overburdened communities and work toward environmental justice.
Is my air clean?
The MPCA monitors a wide variety of air pollutants in many places, but we can’t monitor everywhere, and some pollutants are hard to detect. Clean air groups, including the MPCA, fill in these gaps by using computer models to estimate pollutant concentrations where there are no monitors. Computer models look at pollutant emissions, nearby buildings, land use and weather patterns to determine where pollutants travel and how they concentrate in certain areas. Air concentrations are compared to inhalation health benchmarks, which are pollutant levels unlikely to cause health effects for sensitive populations like children and the elderly. Comparing air concentrations to health benchmarks is a type of “Risk Assessment”. Public health agencies use these tools to ensure they are protecting human health. At the MPCA, modeling and risk assessment help us to prioritize our work. You can find more about these tools and their results on our page about air modeling and human health.
Clean air means healthier ecosystems
Air pollution affects the ecosystems that Minnesotans value. Pollutants in our air reduce visibility, creating a haze that can affect scenic views in pristine places such as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Voyageurs National Park, as well as in our urban areas.
Minnesota’s lakes and streams can be harmed by air pollution that causes acid rain, and fish can be affected by mercury that settles out of the air and into the water. In addition, emissions of greenhouse gases contribute to climate change, which will cause significant changes to Minnesota’s ecosystems in the years to come. Reducing air pollution means protecting the wild places we enjoy and the plants and animals that inhabit them.
Clean air means a stronger economy
The money spent on reducing pollution in Minnesota often stays in Minnesota. Companies that design, install, maintain, and operate pollution-reducing processes and equipment create thousands of high-paying green jobs in engineering, manufacturing, construction, materials, operation, and maintenance.
Cleaner air and a growing economy can go hand in hand. Since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, emissions of common air pollutants in the U.S. have dropped 70 percent while the U.S. gross domestic product has grown nearly 250 percent.
Cleaner air protects the fish and natural places that many Minnesotans rely on for their livelihoods. Air pollution can also cause damage to crops and forests. Clear skies, edible fish, and healthy crop and forest land are critical to Minnesota’s economy.
Because cleaner air also improves our health, having good air quality means fewer missed work and school days and less spending on air pollution-related illness. We estimate the overall economic impact of health effects associated with exposure to current levels of air pollution in Minnesota may exceed $30 billion per year.
Cleaner air means a strong, diverse economy for all Minnesotans.
What you can do to protect air quality and your health
Small sources of air pollution in our homes and neighborhoods can have a large impact on air quality.
Find out what you can do to help keep our air clean.