Skip to main content

Air pollution continues to pose a threat to public health, with its negative impacts disproportionately affecting low-income and diverse communities across the state.

That's according to two new Life is Breath reports released Tuesday by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). The reports looked at the threat of air pollution in the Twin Cities metro and regional centers in greater Minnesota (Duluth, Rochester and St. Cloud). 

These reports will help inform where direct resources to reduce pollution will go, as well as other efforts to address health inequities, a news release said. 

“We know that air quality and health are closely linked,” Craig McDonnell, MPCA assistant commissioner for air and climate policy, said in a statement. “To see these negative health effects persist in our state’s largest population centers underlines just how important the issue of air quality is, especially for those Minnesotans who are disproportionately affected by pollution.”

The Life and Breath reports analyzed how air pollution affected people's health in 2015, the most recent data available. It builds on reports that were released in 2019 and 2015. The reports found that while the state's air quality has improved and meets federal standards, low and moderate levels of air pollution can cause premature deaths and hospitalizations. 

Air pollution played a role in 10% of all deaths, or about 1,600 people, in 2015 in the seven-county Twin Cities metro, the metro-area Life and Breath report found. It also contributed to 500 hospitalizations and emergency room visits for heart and lung problems.

That's down from 2008 though. That year, there were 2,175 deaths in the Twin Cities metro that could be attributable to air pollution, a previous report found. 

In greater Minnesota, there were 203 deaths attributable to air pollution totaling 8.5% of deaths. That includes 62 in Duluth (8% of all deaths), 74 in Rochester (10% of all deaths) and 67 in St. Cloud (8% of all deaths), the greater Minnesota Life and Breath report found

Air pollution played a role in about 48 hospitalizations in the three greater Minnesota cities in 2015, including 13 in Duluth, 20 in Rochester and 15 in St. Cloud. 

The reports note across all cities that were studied, pollution-related deaths were more common than deaths from accidents, which make up about 6% of all deaths. 

Not only that, but the reports found communities with more residents who are low-income, uninsured, people of color, or people with a disability are disproportionately impacted by air pollution and its effects. 

Structural inequities and other social and economic stressors "lead to higher levels of heart and lug disease that make residents in marginalized communities more susceptible to the effects of poor air quality," MDH said. 

The reports say ZIP codes with the largest percentage of residents of color had more than five times the rate of asthma emergency room visits related to air pollution compared to areas with more white residents. 

“The burden of air pollution falls heavier on some communities within our cities than on others, contributing to preventable deaths and worsening heart and lung disease,” Dr. Brooke Cunningham, assistant commissioner of MDH’s Health Equity Bureau, said in a statement. “It seems like we all breathe the same quality air. The differences are not always visible. Those ‘invisibilities’ are why it’s so hard to tackle the structural causes of health inequities. This report provides crucial information to move forward toward a healthier Minnesota for all.”

MDH and the MPCA say reducing air pollution is part of their overall strategy to address structural inequities in health care, housing and social factors that influence health. 

Next Up

Screen Shot 2022-09-30 at 4.54.42 PM

FBI, police investigating bank robbery at Edina's 50th and France

An ATM technician was robbed by four men at a U.S. Bank.

Ethan Glynn

Paralyzed Bloomington football player begins rehabilitation in Colorado

Ethan Glynn is at a world-renowned rehabilitation hospital.

Press Bar fire

Owner of St. Cloud bar gets 6 years for arson, ordered to repay $3M

A February 2020 fire at the Press Bar and Parlor was later determined to be an insurance job.


Bloomington, Richfield districts tighten security ahead of weekend football

Enhanced safety measures will be in place this weekend.

Screen Shot 2022-09-30 at 2.23.15 PM

Walz sends MN first responders to help with hurricane recovery in Florida

Eight members of the Minnesota All Hazards Incident Management Team will travel to Florida.


It was the driest September in Twin Cities modern history

Less than a quarter inch of rain fell in September.

Jay James Olson

Sauk Rapids man pleads guilty to making, selling ghost guns

The 21-year-old would sell unserialized guns, silencers, auto-sears, and high-capacity magazines.

Pixabay - gray squirrel

Squirrel blamed for Friday power outage impacting over 5,000 homes

There's no telling when or where the squirrels will strike next.


Minneapolis skyline

Study: Air pollution in the Twin Cities dropped 20% during shutdown

Researchers noted any decline in air pollution is likely only temporary.

Most of state's air pollution comes from vehicles

MPR reports two-thirds of the toxic chemicals in our air come from the tailpipes of automobiles, ATVs and boats. The Twin Cities area has so much pollution that it could soon fall short of federal standards, and pollution officials say metro residents may need to change their habits.

red sky, sunrise

Minnesota's air quality improving, per annual report

Duluth was also ranked one of America's six "cleanest cities" for air quality.

Flickr - COVID testing car

As COVID cases continue to rise, greater Minnesota is getting hit hardest

Cases are proportionally lower in the 7-county Twin Cities metro, where vaccination rates are higher.

Another air quality alert issued across Minnesota

Smoke from Canadian wildfires is causing unhealthy air conditions.