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UPDATE: Air quality alert for Thursday, Aug. 17, through Friday, Aug. 18, for northern and central Minn.

Aug 18, 2023 09:24AM ● By Content Editor
Image: MPCA

From the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency - August 18, 2023

The air quality alert for northern and central Minn. continues for Thursday, Aug. 17, and runs until 11 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 18. The alert has been downgraded to Orange for the alert area, and portions of the alert have been cancelled for far southern Minn. and the Arrowhead region. The affected area now includes the Twin Cities metro, Brainerd, Alexandria, Hinckley, St. Cloud, Ortonville, Bemidji, East Grand Forks, Moorhead, International Falls, Hibbing, Ely, Duluth, Roseau, and the tribal nations of Upper Sioux, Mille Lacs, Prairie Island, Leech Lake, Red Lake, and Fond du Lac.

Heavy ground-level smoke from wildfires in the Northwest Territories of Canada reached northwest Minn. on Thurday morning. Strong northwest winds will bring this smoke into central Minn. by Thursday afternoon. Smoke levels are lower than expected and the alert has been downgraded to Orange for the alert area. Winds will become southerly overnight and will prevent the heaviest smoke from reaching southern Minn. The alert has been cancelled for far southern Minn., along with the Arrowhead region. Smoke will linger across the alert area through Friday afternoon. Smoke will continue to disperse as it retreats away from the state. Air quality should improve below alert levels by late Friday.

Fine particle levels are expected to reach the Orange air quality index (AQI) category, a level considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, across northern and central Minn. This area includes the Twin Cities metro, Brainerd, Alexandria, Hinckley, St. Cloud, Ortonville, Bemidji, East Grand Forks, Moorhead, International Falls, Hibbing, Ely, Duluth, Roseau, and the tribal nations of Upper Sioux, Mille Lacs, Prairie Island, Leech Lake, Red Lake, and Fond du Lac. In the orange area, sensitive groups should limit prolonged or heavy exertion and time spent outdoors.

What this alert means

Air moves long distances and carries pollutants. During air quality alerts due to wildfires, the air is mixed with harmful smoke. Wildfire smoke spreads or lingers depending on the size of the fires, the wind, and the weather.

The air quality index (AQI) is color-coded. Air quality alerts are issued when the AQI is forecast to reach an unhealthy level, which includes forecasts in the orange, red, purple, and maroon categories. For a full description of each air quality category, visit airnow.gov.

Orange air quality: Unhealthy for sensitive groups

Sights and smells: In areas where air quality is in the orange AQI category due to wildfires, the sky may look hazy and residents may smell smoke even when wildfires are far away.

Health effects: This air is unhealthy for sensitive groups and pollution may aggravate heart and lung disease as well as cardiovascular and respiratory conditions. Symptoms may include chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and fatigue.

What to do: People in sensitive groups are encouraged to reduce outdoor physical activities, take more breaks, or do less intense activities to reduce their exposure. People with asthma should follow their asthma action plan and keep their rescue inhaler nearby.

Who’s most at risk

Poor air quality impacts health. Fine particle pollution from wildfire smoke can irritate eyes, nose, and throat, and cause coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, dizziness, or fatigue. Smoke particles are small enough that they can be breathed deeply into lungs and enter the bloodstream. This can lead to illnesses such as bronchitis or aggravate existing chronic heart and lung diseases, triggering heart palpitations, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and strokes.

Certain groups experience health effects from unhealthy air quality sooner than others, either because they are more sensitive to fine particle pollution or because they are exposed to larger amounts of it.

Sensitive groups include:

  • People who have asthma or other breathing conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • People who have heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes.
  • Pregnant people.
  • Children and older adults.

People with increased exposure include:

  • People of all ages who do longer or more vigorous physical activity outdoors.
    • People who work outdoors, especially workers who do heavy manual labor.
    • People who exercise or play sports outdoors, including children.
  • People who don’t have air conditioning and need to keep windows open to stay cool.
  • People in housing not tight enough to keep unhealthy air out, or who do not have permanent shelter.

Anyone experiencing health effects related to poor air quality should contact their health care provider. Those with severe symptoms, chest pain, trouble breathing, or who fear they may be experiencing a heart attack or stroke should call 911 immediately.

Take precautions

Reduce or eliminate activities that contribute to air pollution, such as outdoor burning, and use of residential wood burning devices. Reduce vehicle trips and vehicle idling as much as possible. Keep windows closed to ensure outside smoke does not enter your home.

Stay informed