Apr 28, 2023 - Climate

Take a deep breath: Twin Cities is home to "healthy" air quality

Air quality in the <b style='text-decoration: underline; text-underline-position: under; color: #6533ff;'>Twin Cities</b> metro area and the <b style='text-decoration: underline; text-underline-position: under; color: #13c278;'>U.S.</b>
Data: EPA. Note: A concentration below 12 micrograms per cubic meter is considered healthy. Chart: Axios Visuals

Air quality in the Twin Cities remains better than the national average, but progress in improving local pollution levels has largely stalled in recent years.

Why it matters: Fine particles, generated from fossil fuel-burning and other sources, can enter our bodies when we breathe, making their way to the lungs or bloodstream and causing myriad health problems.

  • They are linked to nearly 11,000 excess deaths across the U.S. each year, by one estimate.

By the numbers: The three-year rolling annual average concentration of fine particle pollution across the Twin Cities area was 7.3 micrograms per cubic meter as of 2021 (the latest year for which data is available), compared to nine in 2012 — a 19% decrease.

  • Concentrations below 12 micrograms per cubic meter are considered healthy, the EPA says — though it is seeking to tighten that standard.

Yes, but: The pollution level has inched up from 2017, when it hit a decade-low of 6.8 micrograms per cubic meter.

The big picture: Air quality generally improved nationwide during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, in part because fewer people were driving.

  • But as the pandemic ebbs and people's behaviors and activities return to normal, air quality nationally is beginning to worsen.
Change in air quality by metro area, 2015 to 2021
Data: EPA. Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Go Deeper: Where air pollution is improving — and where it's worsening


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