Minnesota’s air needs your help

MBy Bill Droessler Minnesota’s air quality is threatened, and we have a window of opportunity to address the problem with a new and compelling solution.

On June 3, Gov. Tim Pawlenty introduced a coalition of unlikely partners – businesses, government, environmental and public health groups – that have joined together to fight the region’s growing air problem. The coalition, Clean Air Minnesota, was created to identify measures that individuals, businesses and other organizations can implement to reduce pollutants that contribute to ground-level ozone.

Minnesota is among the first regions in the United States to tackle the issue of voluntarily managing ground-level ozone levels before they reach unacceptable levels – at which time the state would be ordered to address the problem under federal regulations.

In 2001 and 2002, the Twin Cities had several air pollution health alerts, many of which pertained to high ground-level ozone levels. In fact, 2001 was the first time an ozone alert was issued in the metro area in more than 30 years. The alerts prompted vulnerable individuals to restrict outdoor activities. Studies link air pollution to harmful health effects even for healthy people, such as athletes who inhale deeply during exercise.

Increasing ground-level ozone levels might also have a significant impact on the Twin Cities’ economy. If the metro area exceeds federal air pollution standards, we might be designated as a “nonattainment” area. This would mean imposing costly mandatory controls to reduce ground-level ozone. A recent Minnesota Chamber of Commerce study concluded that complying with such a regulatory program could cost Minnesota citizens and businesses from $189 to $266 million each year.

Automobiles and trucks, power plants, painting solvents, gasoline fueling vapors, cleaning compounds, small engines and even printing presses are sources of the air pollutants – oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds – that chemically combine to form ground-level ozone. As the metro population continues to grow, ground-level ozone concentrations will continue to increase unless we begin to take steps to reduce the emissions of ozone-forming pollutants.

All of us contribute to air pollution – there is no easy fix. Nearly half of Minnesota’s key air pollutants come from mobile sources, including the cars and trucks we drive, as well as other gasoline and diesel engines that power everything from construction equipment to lawnmowers. Large industries, such as electrical plants, and smaller businesses, including those that use paints and solvents, also contribute to the problem.

Buying low-volatile-organic compounds paint, carpooling, refueling your car after 6 p.m. and keeping electrical equipment maintained are several things one can do to help reduce ground-level ozone levels.

Working together, we can keep Minnesota’s air healthy and avoid violating the federal air pollution standards.

Bill Droessler is the director of Clean Air Minnesota.

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