Every year air pollution in the Twin Cities contributes to the deaths of about 2,000 people and sends another 1,000 to the hospital for asthma and heart disease treatment.
Two state agencies released those findings Monday morning in an analysis of air quality and health data from 2008, the most recent data available.
“This report helps us see much more clearly than we could before just who is affected by air pollution, how serious the effects are and where we have health disparities that need to be addressed,” said Ed Ehlinger, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health.
Air quality in Minnesota is generally good and meets current federal standards. But even low and moderate levels can contribute to illness and early death. The report, jointly produced by the health department and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, estimated that 6 to 13 percent of all deaths and 2 to 5 percent of all hospital visits were aggravated by small particle and ozone pollution, the two types of air pollution that cause the greatest health risk.
“We can’t control Canadian wildfires or who is burning coal around the world,” says MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine. “We can look at our own choices every day. We can choose the most fuel-efficient transportation we can afford or use mass transit.”
People in ZIP codes with more people of color and residents in poverty show more public health effects from air pollution, primarily because these populations already have higher rates of heart and lung conditions, state officials said. They experience more hospitalizations, emergency-room visits for asthma, and death related to air pollution.
A haze settled in over the Minneapolis skyline one day in early July as smoke from Canadian wildfires drifted across Minnesota, leading to air quality warnings.
“Places that have more elderly people with heart and lung conditions and children with uncontrolled asthma are places where air pollution has a greater impact,” said Ehlinger.
The commissioners say newer data from 2014 suggest that air quality has improved since 2008, but whether health outcomes also have improved is not yet known. Scientists say it may be possible to update the study in the near future.