Air quality notifications increase in the Twin Cities

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Nursing junior Kristen Neigebauer said she misses the fresh air in her hometown. “I’m from the country,” the New Ulm native said. “I can tell the difference between home and here.” Neigebauer said air quality is a huge concern for her, though her health is fine, because her roommate suffers from asthma.

She said transportation to her job forces her to walk outside during days with a poor-air-quality warning in effect.

“I have no other choice,” she said.

Matt Simcik, University environmental health sciences professor, said the June 13 and 14 advisories issued for ozone pollution in the Twin Cities area were at relatively high levels.

Warnings typically advise people to move activities indoors or reduce the amount of time spent outside. They also recommend limiting driving, lawn mowing and controlled fires – all things that assist in ozone production.

Simcik said the creation of ozone is an effect of exceptionally hot weather, specifically the buildup of high temperatures with pressure.

This concentration causes reactions to occur at faster rates in the atmosphere, producing ozone, he said.

Rick Strassman, supervisor of outdoor air monitoring at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said while ozone formation in the stratosphere is seen as beneficial because it protects the atmosphere, at ground level it can have some severe consequences.

Ozone puts out a strong oxidizer in the air, he said, and when inhaled can cause both inflammation and irritation in the eyes, nose, throat and lungs.

Ozone is also one of the main pollutants the public sees alerts for, aside from particle matter, Strassman said.

Ozone is monitored from April through September in Minnesota, and is somewhat avoidable indoors, he said.

In contrast, air particles pollute indoor and outdoor air and aren’t dependent upon season or surroundings, Stassman said.

He said ozone peaks in the afternoon hours, from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. and requires ideal weather conditions – hot, sunny days. The production of ozone can easily be deterred by clouds, rain or wind, he said.

Strassman said the MPCA considers carbon monoxide, lead, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, ozone and nitrogen oxides to be the six “criteria pollutants” that can lead to issued warnings.

Many of these pollutants are not currently at levels of concern in the Twin Cities, Strassman said. Lead and carbon monoxide levels have decreased due to cleaner cars and closer monitoring.

He also said the increased number of air quality notifications are not a result of a worsening situation, but are occurring more frequently as a result of more stringent standards and technological advancements.

“I get calls saying ‘are we the next Mexico City or Houston?’ ” Strassman said of citizens worried about the state’s environmental future.

In Minnesota, air quality has improved over the last 20 years, he said.

Edward Ehlinger, director of Boynton Health Service, said air quality warnings are as big of an issue for the University as they are for the rest of the metro area.

Though they’re targeted toward children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems, he said air quality should be a concern to everyone since it compromises breathing.

“We are all affected by it,” Ehlinger said, adding those without problems might not recognize the toll poor air quality takes on their bodies.

Summer University student DJ Warden said air quality warnings aren’t a huge concern for him, since they’re not a common occurrence.

“It doesn’t keep me from going outside,” he said.