Report: Twin Cities air pollution contributed to 2,000 deaths in 2008

A new report released Monday concluded that air pollution contributed to about 2,000 deaths, 400 hospitalizations, and 600 emergency-room visits in the Twin Cities in 2008.

The report, released by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), used data from 2008 since it was the most recent data available that allowed for linking of air pollution levels and health outcomes.

To measure, the agencies looked at air quality data and health outcomes data by ZIP codes, then used mathematical modeling software to determine what portion of disease was due to pollution.

“This report helps us see much more clearly than we could before just who is affected by air pollution, how serious the effects are and where we have health disparities that need to be addressed,” MDH Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said.  “This report gives us a baseline by which we can measure the health impacts of future reductions in air pollution.”

Breathing polluted air can cause a variety of health problems. And while air quality in Minnesota currently meets federal standards, even low and moderate levels of air pollution can contribute to serious illnesses and early death. 

“We can’t control Canadian wild fires or who is burning coal around the world,” MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine said. “We can look at our own choices every day. We can choose the most fuel efficient transportation we can afford or use mass transit."

People in ZIP codes with higher diversity and poverty showed more negative health effects from air pollution, partly because these populations already have higher rates of heart and lung conditions.  They experienced more hospitalizations, emergency-room visits for asthma, and deaths related to air pollution.

“Small steps really do add up,” Stine said.  “Air pollution is a day-in-day-out cumulative problem; we can all make a positive impact with the daily choices we all make.”

Newer data from 2014 suggest that air quality has improved since 2008, but whether health outcomes also have improved is not yet known.

The report is available on a new multi-agency website called www.BeAirAwareMN.org

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