What you can do about air pollution

Green lawn chairs face smoky fire pit in backyard

There are many small, but critical sources of air pollution in our homes and neighborhoods. Such 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.

To prevent pollution from these sources, the MPCA provides education, guidance, and incentives for reducing air pollution. We have programs for businesses, cities, nonprofits, and communities that address a range of environmental problems, including air quality.

  • Drive your car less. Vehicle exhaust is a major source of air pollution in Minnesota. Carpool. Bike. Bus. Telecommute. Electric vehicles. How could you burn less fuel?
  • Keep your car in good repair. Fix exhaust and oxygen sensor problems ASAP. Check your tire pressure monthly; under-inflated tires have been shown to lower gas mileage, particularly at lower speed.
  • Turn off your engine. An idling engine creates a hot spot of pollution. Buses and big trucks produce particularly unhealthy exhaust. Parents and teachers can help their schools and daycares develop and implement no-idling policies.
  • Don't burn your garbage. Burning your household garbage is dangerous to your health and our environment, and generally against the law in Minnesota. If you're still using a burn barrel, wood stove, or fire-pit for your trash, contact your county about arranging for trash hauling services.
  • Limit backyards fire in the city. Smoke from backyard fires can cause unhealthy conditions for hundreds of people, especially during stagnant weather conditions. Since cities have elevated levels of pollution compared to rural areas, urban fires are more of a nuisance to people with asthma and other lung conditions. If you do have a campfire:
    • Keep fires brief and small 3 feet across or less.
    • Burn only dry fire wood. In the Twin Cities it is illegal to burn any waste in a fire, even yard waste.
    • Never start campfires during an air quality alert. Sign up for texts or emails about elevated air pollution levels.
  • Plant and care for trees. Trees filter pollutants and absorb carbon dioxide. Trees also release oxygen into the atmosphere and help cool our homes.
  • Switch to electric or hand-powered lawn equipment. Gas-powered engines like those on lawnmowers and leaf or snow blowers often lack pollution control devices. An hour running a lawn mower can produce nearly the same amount of pollution as a 100-mile car trip! Use hand-powered or electric lawn care equipment instead.
  • Use less energy. Choose efficient appliances and heating systems. Get an energy audit and follow the advice. Turn off electrical stuff you are not using. It all adds up.
  • Become a champion for clean air. Direct local businesses, city offices, and school districts toward program that can help them reduce air pollution and become more sustainable.
    • GreenStep Cities: City and county officials governments can help by passing local ordinances, creating incentives for beneficial behaviors, and promoting and educating residents on best practices.
    • Small business assistance: The Small Business Environmental Assistance Program helps Minnesota businesses comply with environmental rules, reduce wastes and emissions, and reduce regulatory obligations.
    • Minnesota GreenCorps: An AmeriCorps program coordinated by the MPCA places members with organizations around the state to address environmental issues, including air quality. Nonprofit, government and school districts are eligible to host members to work on qualified projects.