How do you get people to care about something they can’t see and that rarely causes them any problems?
That’s the dilemma for raising awareness of air quality in Minnesota. Human beings need clean, healthy air to thrive. Luckily for us, Minnesota is blessed with an abundance of just that. No problem, right?
Trouble is, our air isn’t so great for everyone. And it’s not great all the time; sometimes, in fact, it’s downright unhealthy. Clean air, like clean water, needs continued vigilance to keep it that way. That’s why the U.S. EPA promotes Air Quality Awareness week each year on May 1.
So with an eye on the calendar, here are some good things to know about air quality in Minnesota.
Air quality in Minnesota is generally good, meeting all federal standards. Levels of pollution in outdoor air keep going down for nearly all measured air pollutants. Since 1990, annual air pollution emissions in Minnesota have fallen by nearly half.
But there are still challenges. Children, the elderly, and people with respiratory diseases are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution. So are low-income and communities of color, who are unfairly exposed to pollutants. And there is evidence that some people experience health effects from air pollution at concentrations below the national standards. So while pollutant levels keep dropping, so do the thresholds for known health impacts.
One troubling aspect of a changing climate is a trend toward more large wildfires in Canada and the U.S. that can blanket parts of Minnesota with smoke and haze. Last year the MPCA issued several air quality alerts due to such smoke events. We’ve already had one this spring; there may be more as the weather warms up.
The MPCA’s Air Quality Index is your best source of air quality information. This summer the MPCA will begin issuing daily air quality forecasts, looking out three days in a newly expanded statewide network. (The AQI forecast currently is available for just the Twin Cities and Rochester.) This should help Minnesotans who have health concerns about air quality to better plan for taking care of themselves. Sign up for AQI forecasts and alerts.
Also new this year: The MPCA has two new “air cams” that show current sky conditions and weather information, and daily movie time-lapses. The cameras are mounted on the roofs of the MPCA’s St. Paul and Duluth offices and will be accessible from the AQI page starting this summer. Why not give them a look?
Visit Beairawaremn.org for more information about air pollution and health impacts.