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Minnesota's air quality is good – but it's better for some than others

Lower-income communities tend to live in communities with poorer air quality.

Take a deep breath – Minnesota's air quality is good. For most people.

That's according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's latest report on the state's air quality. It says pollution levels in the state have fallen by nearly half since 1990, even though the state's economy has grown (which can increase pollution levels).

This graph shows how things have changed over the years:

This is good news for Minnesotans. Polluted air can cause a lot of problems that range from harming the state's natural resources to causing health problems (maybe an itchy throat, maybe asthma, maybe even premature death) the MPCA says. The agency estimates the overall economic cost of pollution-related health effects in the state may exceed $30 billion every year.

Air isn't good for everyone

Even though air quality is good overall – and is better than all national standards – not all Minnesotans breathe equally.

Studies show those who live in lower-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately affected by air pollution, which can increase their risk of serious health problems, the MPCA notes.

Not only are these communities located near pollution sources like busy roads and factories, but they also tend to have less access to healthy food, health care, safe and clean places to play, as well as other amenities that support a healthy lifestyle.

The MPCA reported in 2015 that air quality statewide is improving, but it's not clear yet if health outcomes associated with pollution have also improved for Minnesota's vulnerable residents.

This is called "environmental injustice," and the MPCA says it is increasing its efforts to understand the issue – and fix it.

Where does our air pollution come from?

Minnesota has made a lot of progress reducing emissions from large "smokestack" facilities – only about a quarter of air pollution in the state comes from things like power plants and factories. The pollution that comes from these facilities is regulated through air permitting.

The rest of Minnesota's air pollution emissions come from small and widespread sources, like the cars we drive; how we heat and cool our homes, like traditional fireplaces; lawnmowers; and local businesses like dry cleaners and gas stations, among other things.

Because these are smaller, it can be challenging to regulate effectively, the MPCA says. Luckily, Minnesotans have shown interest in reducing the pollution they cause through the products they buy and their lifestyle choices.

You can read the entire 69-page report here. And for more information on air quality in Minnesota, click here.

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