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New report traces health impacts of air pollution across Minnesota

Those most affected include seniors, children with uncontrolled asthma, people with heart and lung conditions, uninsured and people in poverty


While air quality in Minnesota is generally good, a new joint analysis by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) found that air pollution that does occur plays a measurable role in deaths and hospitalizations across the state.

The report, titled “Life and Breath: How Air Pollution Affects Health in Minnesota,” broadens the scope of a 2015 analysis covering only the Twin Cities metro area. The new report looked at air pollution and health data from outside the metro area. It found that air pollution’s impact on health is not limited to the state’s urban core and even people in rural areas can feel the effects.

The report notes that while air quality in Minnesota currently meets federal standards, even low and moderate levels of air pollution can contribute to serious illnesses and early death. The analysis estimated that in 2013, the latest year for which data were available:

• About 5% to 10% of all Minnesotans who died, and about 1% to 5% of all who visited the hospital or emergency room for heart and lung problems, did so partly because of air pollution.

• Those percentages equated to roughly 2,000 to 4,000 premature deaths, 500 additional hospital stays and 800 emergency-department visits attributable to air pollution across the state.

The report underscores the value of maintaining air quality standards and minimizing pollution, according to Minnesota’s commissioners for health and pollution control.

“Good health and a safe and clean environment are fundamental needs for all Minnesotans,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said. “This report clearly demonstrates that air quality and health are closely linked.”

“Minnesota meets all the federal standards for air quality, yet people’s health is affected even where air quality meets the standards,” said MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop.

While the first report looked at air pollution and health outcomes in Twin Cities ZIP codes, this one used air pollution data and deaths, hospitalizations and emergency room visits from all Minnesota counties. The analysis showed:

• Overall pollution levels are higher in southern Minnesota. Ozone concentrations are highest in the southwest, while fine particles are highest in the metro and parts of southeastern Minnesota.

• Air pollution is not just a city issue. Counties with more people without health insurance or living in poverty have the highest health-related impacts from air pollution.

• The numbers of deaths and hospitalizations in Greater Minnesota are smaller than in the metro, but still significant in terms of public health.

Those most likely to be affected by breathing poor air quality include seniors, people with pre-existing heart or lung conditions, and children with uncontrolled asthma. Generally, areas of Greater Minnesota have higher proportions of older adults and people who are uninsured or underinsured than in the Twin Cities metro area.

The report notes that while strategies to reduce air pollution are important, they’re only part of the solution. Advancing health equity and addressing disparities in health outcomes by poverty, age, race and location are also key.

The report, along with more information about air quality and health, is available at MPCA: Why you should care: air quality and health and MDH: Air Quality.


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