Report: Twin Cities air quality improving, but climate change complicates cleanup

A view of downtown buildings in Minneapolis covered in haze
Hazy skies blanket Minneapolis on June 14, 2023.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

The American Lung Association released its 25th annual State of the Air report Wednesday and it shows air quality in the Twin Cities metro area improved slightly between 2020 and 2022.

The Clean Air Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency to set health-based air quality standards for common pollutants. The lung association’s report looks at fine particulate matter and ozone levels which, in higher amounts, can have adverse health effects — especially on people of color and those with underlying health conditions.

Ozone levels improved somewhat between 2020 and 2022, and particulate pollution, like tailpipe exhaust and wildfire smoke, remained steady in that period. Data from last summer’s wildfires and record numbers of air quality reports are not included in the report.

Pat McKone, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Minnesota, told MPR News climate change is making air pollution more common and harder to clean up.

“We all have to take that into consideration, both in our behaviors and then what we’re telling our decision-makers of the importance of this matter,” she said.

Positive change, McKone said, will require better choices from individuals, stricter federal regulation of major polluters — like coal and gas-fired power plants — and for states to set clean energy standards. Last year, Gov. Tim Walz signed a bill requiring Minnesota to shift to 100 percent clean energy by 2040.

Nationwide, the report found an uptick in hazardous air quality, with nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population living in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution.

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