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News release

May 17, 2023


David Brown, 651-757-2227,

Air quality alert issued 10 p.m. Wed., May 17, to noon Thurs., May 18

Map showing active air quality alerts in northwest and north central Minnesota. Air quality is expected to reach the red AQI category across northwest Minnesota, a level considered unhealthy for everyone.
Air quality alert valid Wednesday, May 17, at 10 p.m. until Thursday, May 18, at noon.

Air quality is expected to reach the red AQI category in northwest Minnesota, which is unhealthy for everyone.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has issued an air quality alert for northern Minnesota. The alert takes effect Wednesday, May 17, beginning at 10 p.m. and runs until Thursday, May 18, at noon. The affected area includes northwest and north central Minnesota, and the tribal nations of Leech Lake, Red Lake, and Mille Lacs.

A band of very heavy ground-level smoke from wildfires in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan is currently moving southeast and stretches from southern Manitoba to eastern Montana. A strong cold front will pull this smoke south towards northwest Minnesota. Smoke will reach northwest Minnesota around 10 p.m. tonight (Wednesday). Northwest winds will push the smoke through the state and the smoke should reach central and southwest Minnesota by noon on Thursday. Smoke will likely move through the Twin Cities and southeast Minnesota beginning in the late afternoon on Thursday. Smoke will begin to clear and air quality should improve across northwest Minnesota beginning Thursday afternoon. Smoke should clear southeast Minnesota by Friday morning. If smoke creates air quality impacts in other parts of the state, we will issue an alert.  

Fine particle levels are expected to reach the red air quality index (AQI) category, a level considered unhealthy for everyone, across northwest Minnesota. This area includes Moorhead, East Grand Forks, Roseau, and the Red Lake tribal nation. In the red area, everyone should avoid prolonged time outdoors. Fine particle levels are expected to reach the orange AQI category, a level considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, across north central Minnesota. This area includes Ely, International Falls, Brainerd, and the tribal nations of Leech Lake and Mille Lacs. In the orange area, sensitive groups should avoid prolonged time outdoors.

What this alert means

Air moves long distances and carries pollutants. During air quality alerts due to wildfires, the air is mixed with harmful smoke. Wildfire smoke spreads or lingers depending on the size of the fires, the wind, and the weather.

The air quality index (AQI) is color-coded. Air quality alerts are issued when the AQI is forecast to reach an unhealthy level, which includes forecasts in the orange, red, purple, and maroon categories. For a full description of each air quality category, visit

Red air quality: Unhealthy

Sights and smells: In areas where air quality is in the red AQI category due to wildfires, the sky may look smoky. The air will look hazy, and you won’t be able to see long distances. You may smell smoke.

Health effects: This air is unhealthy for everyone. Anyone may begin to experience symptoms such as irritated eyes, nose, and throat, coughing, chest tightness, or shortness of breath. Sensitive or more exposed individuals may experience more serious health effects, including worsening of existing heart or lung disease and respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, possibly leading to an asthma attack, heart attack, or stroke.

What to do: Reduce outdoor physical activities, take more breaks, and avoid intense activities to reduce exposure. Sensitive and more exposed individuals should avoid prolonged or vigorous activities and consider shortening, rescheduling, or moving outdoor events inside.

Orange air quality: Unhealthy for sensitive groups

Sights and smells: In areas where air quality is in the orange AQI category due to wildfires, the sky may look hazy and residents may smell smoke even when wildfires are far away.

Health effects: This air is unhealthy for sensitive groups and pollution may aggravate heart and lung disease as well as cardiovascular and respiratory conditions. Symptoms may include chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and fatigue.

What to do: People in sensitive groups are encouraged to reduce outdoor physical activities, take more breaks, or do less intense activities to reduce their exposure. People with asthma should follow their asthma action plan and keep their rescue inhaler nearby.  

Who’s most at risk

Poor air quality impacts health. Fine particle pollution from wildfire smoke can irritate eyes, nose, and throat, and cause coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, dizziness, or fatigue. Smoke particles are small enough that they can be breathed deeply into lungs and enter the bloodstream. This can lead to illnesses such as bronchitis or aggravate existing chronic heart and lung diseases, triggering heart palpitations, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and strokes.

Certain groups experience health effects from unhealthy air quality sooner than others, either because they are more sensitive to fine particle pollution or because they are exposed to larger amounts of it.

Sensitive groups include:

  • People who have asthma or other breathing conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • People who have heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes
  • Pregnant people
  • Children and older adults

People with increased exposure include:

  • People of all ages who do longer or more vigorous physical activity outdoors
  • People who work outdoors, especially workers who do heavy manual labor
  • People who exercise or play sports outdoors, including children
  • People who do not have air conditioning and need to keep windows open to stay cool
  • People in housing not tight enough to keep unhealthy air out, or who do not have permanent shelter.

Anyone experiencing health effects related to poor air quality should contact their health care provider. Those with severe symptoms, chest pain, trouble breathing, or who fear they may be experiencing a heart attack or stroke should call 911 immediately.

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