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Canadian wildfires could fuel another smoke-filled Minnesota summer

Minnesota Pollution Control issued a rare, statewide air quality alert on Thursday, and the Canadian wildfire season is just beginning.

ST PAUL, Minn. — After leading to several days of hazy skies in Minnesota, a cold front carried even more heavy smoke from Canadian wildfires into the state on Thursday.

The smoke was so thick that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) issued a rare, statewide air quality alert Thursday morning, saying it would run through Friday at 6 a.m. 

"This is only third statewide air quality alert that we've issued. All three times it's been for wildfire smoke," said David Brown, Air Quality Meteorologist for the MPCA. "What we saw (Wednesday) with the smoke that they saw in North Dakota was probably the worst that they've ever measured."

Kent Erdahl: "What do we know about where wildfire smoke coming into our state ranks in terms of air pollution?"

Brown: "The wildfire smoke events that we've seen, especially in 2021 and this one here, produce air quality impacts that are significantly higher than what we generally see from everyday sources of emissions that we're used to, like factories and cars and things like that."

Typically, these events are breif, but during that summer of 2021 we had wildfire smoke for almost the entire month of July that impacted some parts of Minnesota, it just came wave after wave."

Unfortunately, Brown says the timing of this smoke, and the fires that are fueling it, could lead to an even longer smoke filled summer.

"It's concerning that we're seeing smoke this early in the wildfire season," he said. "Typically we see these types of events in July, August, maybe September, so we may see wave after wave again depending on how the weather patterns set up."

Levels of fine air particles are so high that the air quality alert involves ALL Minnesotans in certain areas of the state, not just vulnerable groups like the elderly, children and those with chronic health conditions. These areas include the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area, St. Cloud, Mankato, Moorhead, East Grand Forks, Roseau, Bemidji, Alexandria, Marshall, Ortonville, Worthington and the tribal nations of Red Lake and Mille Lacs. 

Fine particle levels are expected to reach a level considered unhealthy for sensitive groups across southeastern, northeastern, and far-east central Minnesota. These areas include Rochester, Duluth, Ely, International Falls, Two Harbors, and the tribal nations of Fond du Lac and Grand Portage. 

The MPCA reiterates that poor air quality impacts health. Fine particle pollution from wildfire smoke can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, and cause coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, dizziness, or fatigue. 

Smoke particles are small enough that they can enter the lungs and eventually the bloodstream. This can trigger bronchitis, and aggravate existing chronic heart and lung diseases while can lead to heart palpitations, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and strokes.


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