Update: An air quality alert has been issued for southern, east central, and northeast Minn., effective Tuesday, June 27, until Thursday, June 29, at midnight. The affected area includes the Twin Cities metro. For more info, visit Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
For several days this summer, air quality in the Twin Cities has been hazy, smokey, and extremely bad for your health, especially if you have pre-existing heart or lung conditions. On Wednesday, June 14, air quality readings in Minnesota were above 250 on the air quality index, which is calculated based on the level of pollutants in the atmosphere in a cubic meter.
Air quality readings over 100 are considered unhealthy. Readings between 50 and 99 are considered unhealthy for those with pre-existing conditions. But despite Wednesday’s spike in pollution, the air quality is expected to remain above 50 through the end of the week, when cleaner air from above the Great Lakes will blow over the Twin Cities.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency believes the air quality readings set a new record for the worst in the Twin Cities since data collection began in 1980. The air pollution is primarily caused by wildfires in Ontario, Canada, which is just across the border to the northeast of Minnesota. For part of the day, air pollution was also aggravated by ground-level ozone pollution from smog, which is emitted from vehicles, production plants, and refineries.
The air quality caused both the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and St. Paul Parks and Recreation to cancel all outdoor activities and events Wednesday evening. Canterbury Racetrack in Shakopee also had to call off their races, and the Minnesota Aurora, an all-women’s soccer team, had to relocate their game indoors and was closed to the public. In spite of the human health effects, hospitals did not experience an uptick in cases or symptoms linked to bad air quality.
The MPCA believes we can expect more such days, although not necessarily consecutive days, moving forward where air quality will degrade to conditions similar to last Wednesday’s. “It’s very possible we could have more events like this,” says MPCA meteorologist David Brown.
“It’s hard to say exactly how heavy the smoke will be. But these fires [in Canada] are continuing to grow and drought is continuing to worsen across the Midwest,” adding Canada’s wildfire season hasn’t even started. The early wildfires, coupled with drought, are linked to climate change, which is caused primarily by our burning of fossil fuels.
The MPCA does not have the authority to cancel any outdoor gatherings if air quality degrades again. “Our role is more to just provide them with input of how bad the smoke forecasts are,” says MPCA supervisory meteorologist Matt Carlson. And although many government agencies heed the MPCA’s advice, not every agency has a contingency plan on what to do.
The state does not have the resources to provide assistance such as free N95 masks to people who need them should we have another day with acrid air. Both the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board as well as St. Paul Parks and Recreation plan to follow guidance from the MPCA in determining whether or not to cancel their outdoor events or relocate them indoors, if possible.
Clubhouses owned by the Minneapolis Park Board that have air conditioning units are equipped with filters. Ramsey County invites people to go to one of its designated cooling shelters should they need respite from dirty air, which can be found on its website.
Should the Canadian wildfires affect the Twin Cities again, those seeking protection from dense air pollution should stay indoors. If you must travel outdoors, wear an N95 mask. For ozone air pollution, the MPCA advises driving less, not filling vehicles up with gasoline in the mornings, or carpooling.
To obtain an N95 or KN95 mask from Covid Aware Twin Cities, fill out this form.