MPCA expands air quality alert for northern Minnesota

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The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has expanded an air quality alert to include the Duluth metropolitan area, Carlton, and Pine County due to smoke burning from wildfires in Canada. The alert will be in place through Friday, July 16, at 9 a.m.

The affected areas include Duluth, Cloquet, Hinckley, Ely, Hibbing, International Falls, Two Harbors, Grand Marais, Grand Portage, Bemidji, Roseau, Moorhead, East Grand Forks, Brainerd, Alexandria and the tribal areas of Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, and Red Lake.

"Smoke from wildfires located north of the Canadian border in Ontario and Manitoba will be transported by northerly winds behind a front moving into the northern portions of the state. Heavy smoke is expected to arrive Tuesday and remain over the area into Friday morning," a news release from the MPCA says. The MPCA says during this time, fine particle levels are expected to be in the Red AQI category, a level considered unhealthy for all individuals, across far northern and western Minnesota and Orange, a level that is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, across central Minnesota.

Fine particle levels in the Red AQI category are uncommon in the Northland. The majority of Air Quality Alerts issued are due to fine particles in the Orange level. This fire season has been worse due to the ongoing heat and drought conditions, making this year worse for air quality.

"In terms of the orange alerts, we issue between two and five a year," said MPCA Meteorologist Matt Taraldsen. "We’ve already issued seven this year, so we’re well ahead of schedule, almost on a record pace. And so with the wildfire situation and with some ozone situations earlier in the summer, shaping up to be a record season for us."

The smoke is expected to remain over northeastern Minnesota through at least Friday before southerly winds develop and push the smoke northward. It will take a couple of days longer for northwestern Minnesota to see relief.

People who are likely to be affected when fine particle pollution reaches an unhealthy level include:

  • People who have asthma or other breathing conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • People who have heart disease or high blood pressure
  • Children and older adults
  • People of all ages who are doing extended or heavy, physical activity like playing sports or working outdoors

The MPCA says air pollution can aggravate heart and cardiovascular disease as well as lung diseases like asthma and COPD. When the air quality is unhealthy, people with these conditions may experience symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, or fatigue. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, the MPCA advises using your inhalers as directed and contact your health care provider.

The MPCA says everyone should take precautions when the air quality is unhealthy including:

  • Take it easy and listen to your body.
  • Limit, change, or postpone your physical activity level.
  • If possible, stay away from local sources of air pollution like busy roads and wood fires.
  • If you have asthma or other breathing conditions like COPD make sure you have your relief/rescue inhaler with you.
  • People with asthma should review and follow guidance in their written asthma action plan. Make an appointment to see your health provider if you don’t have an asthma action plan.