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MPCA Issues Air Quality Alert

Press Release:

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has issued an air quality alert for central and northwestern Minnesota. The alert takes effect Monday, Jan. 9, beginning at 10 a.m. and runs until Tuesday, Jan. 10, at noon.

Light winds combining with moisture from melting snow will trap fine particulate pollution near the surface in central and northwestern Minnesota through noon Tuesday. Air quality will gradually improve Tuesday afternoon as winds increase which will improve dispersion and bring in clearer air from the west.

Fine particle levels are expected to reach the orange air quality index (AQI) category, a level considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, across northwestern and central Minnesota. This area includes The Twin Cities Metropolitan Area, St Cloud, Moorhead, East Grand Forks, Alexandria, Brainerd, Hinckley and the tribal nations of Upper Sioux, Leech Lake, Red Lake, and Mille Lacs. Fine particle levels are expected to be in the orange AQI category, a level that is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, for far southern and northeast Minnesota. In the orange area, sensitive groups should avoid prolonged time outdoors.

What this alert means

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

Orange air quality: Unhealthy for sensitive groups

Sights and smells: In areas where air quality is in the orange AQI category due to stagnant air, the air may look hazy.

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 air mass stagnation can irritate eyes, nose, and throat, and cause coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, dizziness, or fatigue. Fine 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.

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