Ramsey County gets F for its air, and not for “fresh”


The American Lung Association recently released its 2012 State of the Air Report, and while the state of Minnesota received improved grades for the number and severity of “high ozone days,” it scored worse than previous years for “high particle pollution days.”  Of the seven counties graded for particle pollution, St Louis County (home to Duluth) scored best with an A, but Ramsey County (home to St Paul) got the state’s only F.

The county has now hit bottom in a trend that has seen the particle pollution grade decrease from a B in 2009, a C in 2010, a D in 2011 to this year’s failing grade. As a resident of Ramsey County, I have an inkling this grade may be from our location downwind from those polluters across the river in Hennepin County. But there are some serious potential repercussions if the county’s air quality does not improve.

There are the obvious health concerns regarding high particle pollution levels. Early death, cardiovascular harm, respiratory harm, cancer, reproductive and developmental harm are on the list of possibilities. And while we’re all susceptible to these health concerns, the young, elderly, low income earners, anyone outside and of course those who already have health issues are at even greater risk.

But there are other implications as well. David Thornton, Assistant Commissioner at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), says that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently reviewing their air quality standards when it comes to particulate matter, and will likely make these standards more stringent. A report from the MPCA to the State Legislature released last year indicates that failure to comply with EPA standards will result in more rigorous air permits for Minnesota businesses, leading to more expensive measures to curb emission levels, and resource-intensive (ie, costly) measures required for the MPCA.

At this point, resources will need to be spent in some way, shape or form to mitigate particle pollution in Ramsey County. Regulations and mandated actions from the state and federal government seem to be the most expensive, most cumbersome for businesses, and politically the most painful way of doing this. Rather than zero-sum approaches like this, coordinated action and dialogue between business, government and nonprofit stakeholders can create solutions where everyone benefits (or at least minimizes damage to the parties involved).

A Twin Cities group called Environmental Initiative has been facilitating dialogue between these groups for some time now, with a report to the MPCA forthcoming. Coordinated action sooner rather than later to lower particle pollution in our air could alleviate health and economic damages down the road.