‘State of the Air’ Report Reveals Mixed Results for Twin Cities, Several Counties See Drop in Grades

American Lung Association 2023 “State of the Air” report highlights air quality in the Twin Cities and across the nation
Air quality in the Twin Cities metropolitan area has gotten worse since last year’s report, according to the American Lung Association’s 2023 “State of the Air” report, which was released today. Nationally, the report found that nearly 120 million people, or more than one in three, in the U.S. live in counties that had unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution.

The Lung Association’s 24th annual “State of the Air” report grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone air pollution, annual particle pollution and short-term spikes in particle pollution over a three-year period. This year’s report covers 2019-2021. Short-term spikes in particle pollution are where Minnesota saw the biggest harm from air pollutants.

“Wildfire smoke the past few years from fires on the West Coast and in Canada caused many days of unhealthy levels of air pollution across the state, with Northern Minnesota and the Twin Cities especially hard hit,”,” said Jon Hunter, Senior Director of Health Promotions and Clean Air for the Lung Association. “Even one poor air quality day is one too many for our residents at highest risk, such as children, older adults, individuals who are pregnant and those living with chronic disease. That’s why we are calling on lawmakers at the local, state, and federal levels to take action to ensure that everyone has clean air to breathe.”

Nationally, the report found that ozone pollution has generally improved across the nation, thanks in large part to the success of the Clean Air Act. However, more work remains to fully clean up harmful pollution, and short-term particle pollution continues to get worse. In addition, some communities bear a greater burden of air pollution. Out of the nearly 120 million people who live in areas with unhealthy air quality, a disproportionate number – more than 64 million (54%) – are people of color. In fact, people of color were 64% more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade for at least one measure, and 3.7 times as likely to live in a county with failing grades for all three measures.

Ground-level Ozone Pollution in the Twin Cities Region
Compared to the 2022 report, the metro area experienced the same number of unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report, but a few counties saw their grades improve. “State of the Air” ranked the Twin Cities area as the 65th most polluted metro region for ozone pollution, which is worse compared to its ranking of 84th in last year’s report. Anoka County received a “C” grade for ozone pollution, which is down from a “B” the year before, while Washington County dropped from an “A” to a “B”. On the other hand, Goodhue, Scott, Stearns, and Wright County all improved one letter grade for ozone this year.

Particle Pollution in Twin Cities Region
The report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even deadly. Twin Cities’ short-term particle pollution got worse in this year’s report, which means there were more unhealthy days. The area is ranked 50th worst for short-term particle pollution. With the exception of Scott County, which maintained a “B” grade again this year, 16 other counties across the state saw their grades drop to C’s, D’s, and F’s.

The 2023 “State of the Air” found that year-round particle pollution levels statewide remain below federal health limits. Hennepin County’s annual average is down slightly from last year but remains the highest in the state. The Twin Cities area was ranked 118th most polluted for year-round particle pollution, (better than the ranking of 95th last year).

Much of the spike in Minnesota’s recent short-term air pollution can be attributed to wildfire smoke. Weather patterns can carry smoke long distances before sending it down to ground level where it can harm anyone who breathes it. While the sources of the wildfire smoke may have been distant in 2020 and 2021, the damaging health effects are felt locally. As global warming continues to exacerbate droughts that feed larger and larger wildfires in North American forests, these kinds of air pollution events are expected to continue to threaten our health.
The American Lung Association is calling on President Biden to urgently move forward on several measures to clean up air pollution nationwide, including new pollution limits on ozone and particle pollution and new measures to clean up power plants and vehicles. See the full report results and sign the petition at Lung.org/SOTA.

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For more information, contact:

Janye Killelea
[email protected]

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