New Air Quality Tests Coming to Twin Cities Neighborhoods

Beginning in January 2018 the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) plans to place sensors or monitors in Minneapolis and St. Paul neighborhoods to conduct air quality tests.

The new testing is being conducted because, according to the MPCA, "There are some areas of concern in urban areas, and there are inequities in exposure to air pollutants, for example; low-income populations and people of color tend to live in areas that have higher levels of air pollution."

Air Quality Concerns in Twin Cities

The MPCA calls Twin Cities air quality "generally good." However, elevated levels of particles and ozone are sometimes noted. For example, in summer months air quality alerts are issued for parts of Minnesota including the metropolitan area. The MPCA's states that its urban air monitoring project is designed to: "help us understand more about how air quality differs across urban areas."

In July 2015 the MPCA and Minnesota Department Health (MDH) completed a study where they found that air pollution in the Twin Cities contributes to 2000 premature deaths every year. According to the agencies 1000 people per year here are sent to hospitals for asthma, lung and heart treatments.

Fifty New Sensors Spread Across the Twin Cities

Fifty monitors will be installed across zip codes in each city. Minneapolis has 24 zip codes. While St. Paul has 14 zip codes. As a result, more than one monitor will be sited in larger zip codes.

The new monitors are smaller and less expensive to operate than existing monitors. Also, air can be sampled for fine particles, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide.

Furthermore, with the new monitors, the MPCA hopes to answer the following questions:

1. Are there significant differences in pollutant concentrations between ZIP codes in the cities?

2. Are there areas with unusually high pollutant concentrations?

3. Is this technology suitable for measuring small differences in air quality?

Location, Location, Location

In addition, starting in late August 2017 the MPCA plans four open houses in Minneapolis and St. Paul to talk about monitor placement, explain the Assessing Urban Air Quality project, and seek public input on location of the sensors.

According to the MPCA, criteria for the sensor locations include proximity to:

1. Day care centers, schools, playgrounds, and senior housing

2. Residential areas

3. Traffic

Plans specify that the monitors be placed on easily accessible street poles 10 to 15 feet above ground. So, they will have minimal tree cover or obstruction. Consequently, this placement allows for the free flow of air.

Urban Air Quality Concerns - Contributing Factors

There are a number potential factors affecting urban air quality:

1. Nearby industrial facilities with air quality permits

2. Unpermitted facilities with uncontrolled air emissions

3. Traffic

4. Other sources located inside and outside the Twin Cities

5. Weather conditions

6. Local topography

7. Prevailing winds

Due to these factors, pollutants captured at the monitors likely will represent air pollution from multiple sources.

What's Next?

The MPCA's new monitoring and data collection project raises a key question:

How will the data that is generated over the two-year life of the project be used?

The collection and publication of results may heighten public scrutiny. And, over time, the MPCA may investigate nearby permitted and unpermitted sources that may be contributing to high detections.

Partners and collaborators with the MPCA on this air quality project include the Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, MDH, Minnesota State University-Mankato and Xcel Energy.

For more information about the MPCA's Assessing Urban Air quality project including dates and locations of the upcoming public meetings see:

Joseph Maternowski is a Minnesota environmental attorney. He assists clients in conducting audits of operations to minimize environmental violations including those relating air quality. In addition, as an environmental lawyer, Joe helps clients respond to federal and state inspections, enforcement and permitting actions including matters involving air quality compliance.

Joseph G. Maternowski

Hessian & McKasy, PA

T: (612) 746-5754