Emissions no longer tested; toxics remain

by Travis Reed

After eight years, Twin Cities emissions-testing stations closed permanently Tuesday. The Environmental Protection Agency said in October that the Twin Cities area met its safety standards for atmospheric levels of carbon monoxide.
State officials view the ruling as verification that Minnesota’s air quality is improving, at least in part.
But now the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is focusing its sights on combating “air toxics,” a form of pollution consisting of 188 carcinogenic chemicals that the agency has monitored for the past three years.
Vehicle emissions account for about 60 percent of these atmospheric toxins, which include arsenic, benzene and formaldehyde. The other 40 percent come from factories, utilities, fireplaces, gas stations and facilities such as dry cleaners and paint shops that use solvents.
These new pollutants put Americans at a much higher risk of developing cancer, according to a recent EPA study.
But researchers can’t say decisively that levels of the airborne toxins are unusually high since they were measured for the first time this year.
“The levels of ‘air toxics’ are hard to measure,” said Rebecca Helgesen MPCA spokeswoman. “The technology wasn’t previously available.”
Minnesota and California are the only two states that have recorded data about the pollutants, giving the two states the opportunity to act more quickly than their peers.
“It gives us information that other states don’t have about levels of toxic air pollutants,” said Leo Raudys, project manager for the carbon monoxide emissions testing.
But gathering data on harmful chemicals is the MPCA’s first step. The agency must now use the information to effectively reduce their prevalence.
Helgesen said solving the “air toxics” problem will not be as easy as lowering carbon monoxide levels.
“There isn’t equipment to test for toxics on cars, but if there was, it wouldn’t tell us much except that all cars put out toxics — even well-running ones,” she said.
Officials say attacking atmospheric levels of the chemicals will require a multilateral effort involving several state agencies and environmental groups. Project manager Raudys said education is the first step.
“We’re trying to get information out into the general public to get people thinking about solutions,” he said. “After that, we’ll start talking about what we can do to solve the problem.”

Travis Reed covers environment and transportation and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3235.