Air quality alert expanded to include western and northern Minnesota

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


September 6, 2023

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has expanded the current air quality alert to include the western half of Minnesota. The alert now runs until 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 6. The affected area includes Brainerd, Alexandria, Albert Lea, Marshall, Worthington, Ortonville, Mankato, Bemidji, East Grand Forks, Moorhead, International Falls, Hibbing, Ely, Roseau, and the tribal nations of Upper Sioux, Mille Lacs, Leech Lake, and Red Lake. The alert has also been upgraded to Red AQI for western Minnesota.

Heavy smoke is currently impacting the Red River valley region in northwest Minnesota. Smoke will continue to move east and the impact area will expand to include southwest and north central Minnesota. Smoke will move into these areas by 6 p.m. Tuesday and will reach central Minnesota by 3 a.m. Wednesday. Smoke will be near the Twin Cities by 6 a.m. Wednesday. The alert will be expanded again if needed. The northern edge of the smoke plume should move into Minnesota Wednesday morning, and air quality should improve from north to south throughout the day on Wednesday.

Fine particle levels are expected to reach the red air quality index (AQI) category, a level considered unhealthy for everyone, across western Minnesota. This area includes Alexandria, Marshall, Worthington, Ortonville, East Grand Forks, Moorhead, Roseau, and the tribal nations of Upper Sioux. In the red area, everyone should limit prolonged or heavy exertion and time spent outdoors. Fine particle levels are expected to reach the orange air quality index (AQI) category, a level considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, in an area of Minnesota that includes Brainerd, Albert Lea, Mankato, Bemidji, International Falls, Hibbing, Ely, and the tribal nations of Mille Lacs, Leech Lake, and Red Lake. In the orange area, sensitive groups should limit prolonged or heavy exertion and time spent 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 don’t 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.

Take precautions

Reduce or eliminate activities that contribute to air pollution, such as outdoor burning, and use of residential wood burning devices. Reduce vehicle trips and vehicle idling as much as possible.

Stay informed

• Visit MPCA’s Air Quality Index webpage for information on current air quality conditions in your area.

• Sign up for daily air quality forecasts and alert notifications though EnviroFlash.

• Download the EPA AirNow mobile app from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.

• Visit the MPCA’s Air quality and health webpage for information about health and indoor and outdoor air quality and how to prevent air pollution.

• Visit the Minnesota Department of Health wildfire smoke webpage for actions you can take to protect your health against wildfire smoke.


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