Air quality affects heart & lung health

Air pollution is associated with a variety of harmful respiratory and cardiovascular effects, including asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, and heart attacks. The severity of these effects varies depending on the type of the pollutant, level of exposure, and individual susceptibility.

The air quality data and measures developed for this web site are based on measurements of ozone and fine particles (also known as PM2.5) in outdoor air. High levels of ozone and PM2.5 are the primary cause of poor air quality in much of the US, including Minnesota.

Children and adults who participate in heavy or extended physical activity, and people with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution. To learn more about air quality and how to stay healthy, visit Be Air Aware.

PM2.5 and Ozone are major causes of poor air quality

PM2.5

PM2.5 is a mixture of small particles and liquid droplets smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter. PM2.5 is released when coal, gasoline, diesel fuels, wood and other fuels are burned. PM2.5 also is created by chemical reactions between other pollutants in the air.

Additionally, PM2.5 is released by tobacco smoke and home heating sources, such as wood burning stoves and fireplaces. Depending on these activities and home environment characteristics (e.g. air ventilation), PM2.5 indoor exposures may be higher than outdoors.

PM2.5 can be inhaled deep into the lungs and even reach the bloodstream. The particles can accumulate in the respiratory system and cause serious health effects. Scientific studies, for example, have linked particle pollution to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks, asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory illnesses.

Ozone

Ozone is a colorless gas composed of three atoms of oxygen. In the upper atmosphere this gas helps protect the earth from the sun's damaging ultraviolet rays. At ground level, however, ozone can be harmful to human health and the environment.

Ground-level ozone is not emitted directly into the air but is created through a series of reactions between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) mixing in the presence of heat and sunlight. Because of the role of heat and sunlight in the formation of ozone, ozone is generally not a concern in Minnesota during the winter months. On hot, sunny summer days, however, ozone concentrations can rise to unhealthy levels.

Sources of pollutants that form ozone include gasoline and diesel vehicles, construction equipment, and electric utilities. Additionally, paints, solvents, and glues/adhesives contain chemicals that may form ozone.

Ozone is also a known lung irritant, associated with a variety of respiratory effects, including chest pain, asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema.

Reduce your exposure to air pollution

  • Be aware of Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Air Quality Index (AQI) alerts and advisories in your area.
  • Avoid exposure to tobacco smoke, wood smoke, vehicle exhaust, and other sources of PM2.5 when possible.
  • Avoid prolonged outdoor physical activity on air quality alert or advisory days and near high-traffic areas.
  • On high ozone concentration days, plan physical activity for the morning hours when ozone concentrations are lowest or move activities to an air-conditioned, indoor area.
  • Take action to reduce PM2.5 and ozone levels in your community.

What is being done about PM2.5 and ozone?

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for six pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment. These pollutants include ozone, PM2.5, lead, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. The EPA is required to review the scientific basis of the NAAQS every five years and revise them as necessary to ensure adequate public health protection. States are required to meet these regulatory standards.
  • The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is responsible for implementation and enforcement of the NAAQS in Minnesota. To accomplish this, MPCA requires businesses to apply for air pollution permits. Permit applicants must demonstrate that pollution emissions will not cause air quality to violate the national standards.
  • MPCA also operates a statewide air monitoring network and reports its results to EPA to ensure air quality in Minnesota meets the NAAQS. Additionally, MPCA reports the Air Quality Index (AQI), a real-time measure of air quality conditions across the state. Individuals can use the AQI to plan their activities during periods of poor air quality to minimize exposure.
  • For more information on the health effects of air pollution, visit the MDH web pages on particulate matter and ozone.