The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has issued an air quality alert due to increased ozone in the lower atmosphere. That means the air quality is particularly unsafe for folks with respiratory conditions, children and teens, people engaging in physical activity outdoors, and otherwise healthy people who may be sensitive for genetic reasons.
The areas affected include the Twin Cities metropolitan area, St. Cloud, Hinckley, Mankato, Albert Lea, and Rochester regions, as well as the tribal nations of Prairie Island, Leech Lake, and Mille Lacs. According to the MPCA, the culprit is a mixture of high temps and low humidity, which causes toxic reactions to two types of pollutants, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides.
The health risk disproportionately affects communities of color, who in the U.S. are more likely to be concentrated in environments that - due to systemic factors - result in disproportionate rates of illnesses. Air quality is connected to respiratory health. And in the United States, Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous folk are diagnosed with asthma more than any other racial demographic. These racial groups are also more likely to be hospitalized or die by the condition as well.
A 2020 report by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America found that “Over the past 15 years, there have been moderate advances in U.S. public policy, health care and research, but racial gaps in asthma outcomes have not changed. Minority groups continue to bear disproportionate hardship in managing asthma.”
The majority of Minnesota’s communities of color are concentrated in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. In 2015, ten percent of all deaths in this region resulted from air pollution.
“The burden of air pollution falls heavier on some communities within our cities than on others, contributing to preventable deaths and worsening heart and lung disease,” said Dr. Brooke Cunningham, assistant commissioner of MDH’s Health Equity Bureau. “It seems like we all breathe the same quality air. The differences are not always visible.