Why you should care: air quality and health

Graphic showing health effects of fine particle air pollution and ground level ozone on the human body, such as shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, fatigue, worsening asthma, COPD, and heart disease.

Exposure to air pollution can affect everyone’s health. When we breathe, pollution enters our lungs and can enter our bloodstream. Air pollution can contribute to small annoyances like coughing or itchy eyes. It can also as cause or worsen many diseases involving the lungs and breathing, leading to hospitalizations, cancer, or even premature death. Minnesota’s air currently meets all federal air quality standards. However, even levels of air pollution below the standards can affect people’s health, including levels currently found in parts of Minnesota.

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.

People in lower-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately affected by 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.

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