With the recent news that 2021 is the worst year for air quality in Duluth on record, an announcement made Tuesday, August 3 by the the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) should not come as a shock to anyone.

The MPCA has officially extended the current air quality alert until Wednesday, August 4, at 9:00 p.m. for the northern half of Minnesota. The air quality alert for the rest of Minnesota expired as scheduled on Tuesday, August 3 at 3:00 p.m.

As part of their announcement, they note that smoke from Canadian wildfires has remained over most of Minnesota since Thursday. While an area of high pressure allowed for smoke across the southern half of Minnesota to clear, the smoke is expected to linger through Wednesday evening across northern Minnesota.

For those that follow the Air Quality Index (AQI) during times such as this, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says fine particle levels are expected to reach the Orange AQI category, a level that is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, for north central, northeast, and northwest Minnesota today. This area includes Duluth, Ely, Two Harbors, Brainerd, East Grand Forks, Moorhead, Detroit Lakes, Hinckley, Roseau, and the tribal nations of Leech Lake, Fond du Lac, Upper Sioux, and Red Lake.

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The further north you travel, the worse the the air quality becomes. Fine particle levels are expected to reach the Red AQI category, a level considered unhealthy for everyone, north of the Twin Ports area, including International Falls, Grand Portage, Grand Marais, Baudette, and the tribal nations of Grand Portage.

If you're unsure who falls into the sensitive group category, they are anyone whose health is affected by unhealthy air quality. This includes:

  • People who have asthma or other breathing conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • People who have heart disease or high blood pressure.
  • Children and older adults.
  • People of all ages who are doing extended or heavy, physical activity like playing sports or working outdoors.
  • People who don’t have air conditioning to reduce indoor air pollution.

I can speak to the effects this can have on people physically active outside. During the early days of the air quality issues we've faced this summer, I went for a 5-mile run outside without realizing our AQI was in the Orange Category. I noticed I was getting tired sooner than I normally would and for quite awhile after the run, my nose and throat remained irritated.

Most weather apps will show what the AQI level is in the area, so it's a good idea to make a habit of checking that. This is especially true if you or someone you know falls into a sensitive group category.

There are precautions everyone can take during times when the air quality is unhealthy. According the the MPCA, you should:

  • Take it easy and listen to your body.
  • Limit, change, or postpone your physical activity level.
  • If possible, stay away from local sources of air pollution like busy roads and wood fires.
  • Keep indoor air as clean as possible. Use indoor air filtration or air conditioning with the fresh-air intake closed/set on recirculate to reduce indoor air pollution.
  • 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.
  • In areas where air quality is in the Red (Unhealthy) AQI category, sensitive individuals should avoid prolonged exertion. Everyone else should limit prolonged exertion.
  • In areas where air quality is in the Orange (Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups) AQI category, sensitive individuals should limit prolonged exertion.

Furthermore, you can help avoid adding to the bad air quality by not using gasoline powered lawn and garden equipment on air alert days and by avoiding any burning.

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