Air quality and health are closely linked. Minnesota enjoys good air quality overall, meeting all federal standards. But even low and moderate levels of air pollution can contribute to serious illnesses and early death. Air pollution can worsen conditions involving breathing and lung health, such as asthma, COPD, emphysema, and heart disease.
Many studies have also demonstrated that low income neighborhoods and communities of color have higher potential exposures to outdoor air pollutants and have more sources of pollution. The social, economic, and health inequities that these populations face can also make them more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution.
And now, the groups most affected by air pollution are often same groups that are being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 virus:
- Elderly people
- People living in poverty
- People with pre-existing heart or lung conditions
- Children with uncontrolled asthma
- People without health insurance
So it’s fitting that the theme of the 2021 Air Quality Awareness Week (May 3 – 4) is “Healthy air — Important for everyone.” In addition, May is Asthma Awareness Month. More than 410,000 Minnesotans suffer from this disease, which can be life-threatening. MPCA and our clean-air partner the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) encourage people to check the Air Quality Index frequently. MPCA reports levels of ground-level ozone and fine particles, the two most important pollutants to asthma sufferers, on the AQI. It indicates when outdoor activities may be inadvisable due to air pollution, particularly for those with pre-existing conditions.
MPCA works to lower air pollution through regulation, financial assistance, and education. Many small but critical 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. Some of these sources can be lessened if Minnesotans make changes, like driving less or saving energy. Learn how you can help improve air quality where you live.
Follow the MPCA on Twitter and Facebook for information, this week and all year ‘round, on air pollution and health. Learn more in Life and breath: How air pollution affects health in Minnesota, a 2019 joint report by MPCA and MDH.