Case Study: How Minneapolis is Ensuring Healthy Clean Air for Each Resident
Minnesota Builds Localized Air Quality Network Through Grant Funds & PurpleAir Air Quality Monitors
- Topic: How Grants Are Helping Cities Expand their AQ Network
- Industry: Air Quality Technology, Government
- Author: Adrian Dybwad
- Website: PurpleAir.com
Everyone has the right to breathe clean air. But ensuring that everyone has equal access to clean air isn’t as simple as one might think. That's because air quality is so complex that it can vary even within neighborhoods.
Currently, this is the problem that the State of Minnesota is tackling as they’re working to improve their air quality.
Although Minnesota has passed the air quality standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a deeper look into its air quality data shows that this isn’t true for all its neighborhoods. There are at least 20 locations that experience toxic levels of air pollution above EPA’s standards. This includes the City of Minneapolis, which is home to over 60% of the state’s population.
To better understand local air quality, the City of Minneapolis applied for the EPA grant “Enhanced Air Quality Monitoring for Communities” in 2021. Thanks to this air quality grant, Minnesota is developing a more robust air quality network as it distributes low-cost air quality monitors to homes and businesses. This way, the local government can gain more insight into neighborhood-level air quality data. At the same time, they’re involving communities as they push for better air quality.
In this air quality case study, we’ll tackle why local air quality data is vital in providing air quality for all communities and what Minnesota is doing about it.
The Air Quality Situation in Minnesota
The poor air quality in Minnesota has been a cause of concern for decades. So much so that it contributes to up to 6,400 deaths and 1,300 hospital visits a year.
This can be attributed to Minnesota’s history as a hotspot for agricultural, manufacturing, and mining industries, which emit high levels of air pollution. This includes fine particle matter (PM2.5), which is so dangerous to our health that it can cause cancers, respiratory diseases, cardiovascular disorders, and brain dysfunction. It’s even linked to premature death.
However, after the Clean Air Act was established, the State of Minnesota put air quality regulations and policies, programs, and initiatives in place to reduce air pollution in the area. Today, air pollution has decreased by 50% compared to levels in 1997.
Plus, Minnesota’s source of air pollution no longer comes from heavy industry and manufacturing. Rather, 80% of its air pollution comes from the following smaller sources:
- Small businesses
- Gas stations
Other factors that impact Minnesota’s air quality are the wildfire smoke from nearby areas and temperature inversions. In fact, Minnesota’s 2023 Air We Breath Report observed that the increase in PM2.5 levels was mainly due to wildfires. While Minnesota has come a long way, more work needs to be done. This especially holds true in light of recent findings.
Why Minnesota’s Air Quality is Still a Problem
According to the latest Minnesota Air Quality Monitoring report, there are a total of 56 air quality monitoring stations across the state. However, it also points out that the majority are located in Twin Towers. This is because the placement of air monitors is determined by population density rather than need. As such, there are significant data gaps in places without air quality monitors.
Another concern is that EPA Minnesota air quality data only reports the average air quality levels to determine if it meets national air quality standards. Because of this, the air quality of Minnesota might look good at a distance. But a closer look at their air quality data reveals that multiple locations are actually suffering from poor air quality.
This has been the case when Minnesota investigated residents’ concerns about emissions coming from nearby factories.
Source: The Air We Breathe: The State of Minnesota's Air Quality
In 2021, the State of Minnesota discovered 20 locations are experiencing hazardous levels of air pollution, Worse, they’re also exposed to toxic chemicals like chromium, cobalt, and nickel. That’s because many of these locations are nearby or home to the industrial activities of 8,250 companies.
To better understand the state of air quality on a more localized level, the State of Minnesota applied for and received one of EPA’s grants for air quality.
How Minnesota is Scaling their Air Quality Network
“Enhanced Air Quality Monitoring for Communities” is an EPA grant that seeks to aid at-risk and underserved communities by helping them enhance their air quality monitoring capabilities.
By doing so, these communities are more empowered to solve environmental and health-related air quality problems. Additionally, EPA hopes to encourage air quality monitoring partnerships amongst community and tribal, state, and local governments. Through the EPA’s air quality grant, the City of Minneapolis received $411,000. The city has invested a part of these funds towards purchasing 100 PurpleAir air quality monitors.
PurpleAir air quality monitors are low-cost air quality monitors that provide real-time, accurate air quality data. With it, the government increases its air quality network and has a more comprehensive picture of a community’s air quality. Not only that, residents and businesses are also benefiting from the air quality monitors.
Because PurpleAir air quality monitors report air quality updates every 2 minutes, residents can make more informed decisions to protect their health and environment in real time. Businesses can also use air quality data to better understand how their activities impact air quality around them.
More importantly, communities are now more involved in air quality issues than before, as they now have easy access to air quality data. As such, they have more power to change their community and improve the air quality in their neighborhood.
This is just the start of Minneapolis’ work to address poor air quality on a more localized level. And already, we’re seeing positive results as residents are taking more data-driven actions. This also goes to show that improving air quality isn’t just the work of the government. Instead, it must also involve communities to create powerful changes.
Since being founded in 2018, PurpleAir has dedicated itself to providing highly precise air quality monitors that track hyper-local air quality levels in real time. In doing this, PurpleAir is empowering community scientists and helping to facilitate social change through accessible air quality data for all. By working together, everyone is more informed and able to make changes in their local communities to improve air quality.