Ozone levels are expected to reach the orange air quality index (AQI) category, a level considered unhealthy for sensitive groups. (Image courtesy MPCA.)

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has issued an air quality alert for central and southern Minn., effective from noon on Tuesday, June 20, through 9 p.m. on Thursday, June 22. The affected area includes central and southern Minn., and the tribal nations of Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, Upper Sioux, and Prairie Island.

Ground-level ozone is expected to be high during the afternoon hours on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday across central and southern Minn. Sunny skies, warm temperatures, and low humidity will create an environment favorable for two types of pollutants (Volatile Organic Compounds and Nitrogen Oxides) to react in the air to produce ground-level ozone. These pollutants will be transported by southerly winds from the Chicago area, northeast Iowa, and southeast Minn. Ozone will be highest during the afternoon and early evening hours when sunshine is most abundant, and temperatures are highest. Ozone will be low in the morning, late evening, and overnight.

People whose health is affected by unhealthy air quality: There are people who are more likely to be affected when ozone pollution reaches an unhealthy level.

  • People who have asthma or other breathing conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, and emphysema.
  • Children and teenagers.
  • People of all ages who are doing extended or heavy, physical activity like playing sports or working outdoors.
  • Some healthy people who are more sensitive to ozone even though they have none of the risk factors. There may be a genetic base for this increased sensitivity.

Health effects: Unhealthy ozone levels can aggravate lung diseases like asthma, emphysema, and COPD. When the air quality is unhealthy, people with these conditions may experience symptoms like difficulty breathing deeply, shortness of breath, throat soreness, wheezing, coughing, or unusual fatigue. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, use your inhalers as directed and contact your health care provider.

Take Precautions: Everyone should take precautions when the air quality is unhealthy.

  • Take it easy and listen to your body.
  • Limit, change, or postpone your physical activity.
  • If possible, stay away from local sources of air pollution like busy roads and wood fires.
  • If you have asthma, or other breathing conditions like COPD, make sure you have your relief/rescue inhaler with you.
  • People with asthma should review and follow guidance in their written asthma action plan. Make an appointment to see your health provider if you don’t have an asthma action plan.