Air Mail Newsletter for August 2015

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In this issue:

Regulatory updates

Clean Power Plan

On August 3, 2015, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final Clean Power Plan rule to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.  You can find the final rule and additional information about the plan here.  We are pleased that EPA appears to have heard many of Minnesota’s concerns about certain aspects of the proposal from last year and has adjusted the final rule accordingly. The final rule recognizes the progress of clean energy leaders like Minnesota and better shares responsibility for carbon reductions across all states, while maintaining and even strengthening the overall environmental integrity of the plan.  Minnesota’s clean energy policies and leadership by its utilities make us well-prepared to meet the requirements of the Clean Power Plan.  

To begin Minnesota’s formal process for responding to the Clean Power Plan’s requirements, MPCA announced the same day of the plan’s release its request for comments on possible rule amendments to help Minnesota comply with the new rule.  The request for comments was published in the State Register and can be viewed here. The MPCA started a process to solicit stakeholder input in response to the proposed rule and will re-start this process again soon, once we’ve had time to digest the information in the final rule.  For more information on the Minnesota stakeholder process and efforts related to the Clean Power Plan, please visit the MPCA website.  If you would like to be kept updated on the Clean Power Plan and the related stakeholder engagement, please sign up for GovDelivery alerts here.

Controlling fugitive dust emissions

With rainfall diminishing and the heat index going up, it’s time for a reminder about the importance of controlling dust emissions.  Blowing dust from industrial activities is regulated under the Minnesota standard for Total Suspended Particulates (TSP).    The secondary annual TSP standard is 60 micrograms per cubic meter and the secondary 24-hour standard is 150 micrograms per cubic meter.

Sources of TSP include natural (dirt and dust) as well as industrial sources with large-particle emissions or activities that stir up dust. “These emissions can result from wind-blown particulate matter from industrial activities, disturbing dry soil, and material-handling operations.  TSP levels can become a problem during times of high wind or at facilities that have large sources of fugitive emissions.  Two monitored exceedances of the TSP 24-hour standard in a year constitute a violation and will be investigated by the MPCA.  If a source is found to cause or contribute to a violation, then it will be required to take steps to reduce emissions. 

A number of industrial facilities in Minnesota are required to have dust management plans as part of their air-quality permits. MPCA reminds permittees that they are responsible for meeting the requirements of their dust management plans.  Under Minnesota Rules, no one is allowed to cause avoidable amounts of dust to become airborne.  This applies to all facilities, regardless of their permitting status.

You can reduce fugitive dust through a combination of pollution prevention measures and control measures.  Limit your work on dry, windy, hot days.  Pave frequently-used surfaces, and then maintain them by sweeping or applying water. Slow down when traveling on unpaved surfaces, and maintain them by applying water.  Shield bulk material storage areas from the wind.  Clean up spilled material right away.  For questions about management of fugitive emissions or the TSP standard, contact the MPCA at 651-296-6300. 

MPCA proposed approach to updating the Title V NAAQS modeling strategy now available for review

Over the next year, the MPCA will review and expects to update its Title V modeling strategy to assure that facilities in Minnesota demonstrate compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). This update focuses on questions of when to model. The agency’s current strategy for Part 70 permits modeling was last updated in 2001 and is based on pollutant-specific annual emission thresholds, not necessarily ideal for the newer NAAQS with shorter averaging times that have been finalized in the past several years. An updated strategy will help the agency prioritize permitted facilities for modeling review and enhance transparency for interested stakeholders.

Click here to view the MPCA’s initial proposal. We are seeking input on all aspects of the proposal, including but not limited to:

  • Are there any key steps or considerations missing from the proposed strategy update process?
  • How do we make sure all interested parties have the opportunity to participate in the update process and provide feedback?
  • Are we considering the right criteria for reviewing our modeling strategy? Which are more important than others?
  • Are there additional approaches to prioritizing modeling we should consider?
  • If we do revise our Title V modeling strategy, what kinds of implementation details do we need to address?

The MPCA is not developing a rule. However, the MPCA will work with the regulated community and all interested stakeholders throughout this process and will be accepting feedback on our initial proposal until October 15, 2015.

New website helps Minnesotans know what they’re breathing

BeAirAware is a new website that distills and simplifies information about major air pollutants in Minnesota, both outdoor and indoor.  It includes:

  • links to data on air quality and health outcomes in Minnesota
  • who’s most affected
  • tips to protect viewers and their families
  • actions for communities and employers

The website features real-time data about air quality conditions in Minnesota for common pollutants including fine particles and ozone, and is jointly maintained by the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and their partners.

New report on air pollution and public health

Life and Breath cover

Life and breath: How air pollution affects public health in the Twin Cities (2015) is a collaborative report just released by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Health that provides an in-depth look at air quality and health.  It presents estimates of the public health impacts of air pollution in the Twin Cities metro area.  Key findings include that 6-13 percent of all metro residents who died in 2008 and 2-5 percent of all metro residents who went to the hospital or emergency room for heart and lung conditions did so partly because of exposure to fine particles and ground-level ozone.  Moreover, some groups within the population are more affected by air pollution, including the elderly, children with asthma, people living below the poverty line, and people of color.  This is partly due to differences in exposure to these harmful pollutants, but also due to underlying health disparities across the population.  Reducing health impacts of air pollution will require a two-pronged approach of both improving air quality and improving overall health equity.  The full report can be found on

Clean Air Minnesota reports on two years of projects

Clean Air Minnesota (CAM) is a public-private partnership that brings together businesses, various levels of government, and non-profit organizations to work to improve air quality in Minnesota through voluntary emissions reductions from sources that have not traditionally been regulated by the MPCA.  Although Minnesota currently meets all federal air quality standards, as scientists come to better understand the health impacts of air pollution, federal standards become more stringent.  CAM strives to be proactive to help Minnesota continue to comply with these federal standards.

In June, CAM wrapped up a two-year phase and the various project teams reported on their pilot projects and education programs and the emissions reductions they achieved.  A few of the projects included:

  • Air alert education and outreach team: Developed the website as a source for Minnesotans to learn about air quality, its effects on our health, and what we can do to protect ourselves and reduce our emissions (see article above).
  • Gas-can exchange team: Exchanged 1,500 spill-proof gas cans in Washington and Ramsey Counties.  These cans release up to 75% less harmful vapors into the air.
  • Mobile source team: Retrofitted all eligible school buses and supported 21 heavy-duty diesel engine improvement projects to reduce diesel particle emissions.
  • Community forestry team: Installed a gravel-bed nursery to grow trees to replace those impacted by the emerald ash borer.
  • Wood smoke team: Raised awareness about burning untreated, dry wood at the Minnesota State Fair Eco-Experience.
  • Area source team: Provided grants for small businesses to improve their processes and equipment while reducing emissions that impact both their employees’ health and the environment (see article below).

Part of CAM’s mission is to track and quantify emissions reductions due to projects implemented by its team members.  Initial analyses show the following emissions reductions achieved by the projects above and others for the two-year timeframe of the projects, plus the emissions that will be avoided over the next ten years by the work accomplished by these projects:

  • Volatile Organic Compounds:   2-yr:  297 tons; 10-yr: 1,500 tons
  • Fine Particulate Matter (PM 2.5):   2-yr: 155 tons; 10-yr: 905 tons 
  • Nitrogen Oxides: 2-yr: 38 tons; 10-yr: 192 tons

CAM convener, Environmental Initiative, provides an initial summary of projects and results on its website.  A more detailed report is being developed and will be released in coming months.  CAM is now moving into its next stage and has received funding from the Legislature to continue work going forward.  To learn more about CAM and the work of its project teams, visit the Clean Air Minnesota website.  

Collaborative efforts to reduce VOC emissions

Virtual paint

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that are typically found in solvents used in paint, metal finishing, printing, and other industrial processes.  If you’ve ever walked past an auto body shop and smelled the paint fumes, that’s VOCs.  Released into the air, they combine with small particles to form harmful smog. They can also affect the health of employees and customers at a business, as well as that of the surrounding community. 

While VOCs are a significant air pollution problem, many of their sources are not regulated in the traditional sense. Clean Air Minnesota (CAM), a coalition of government and private partners working to reduce nonpoint-source air pollution, has taken on the challenge of reducing VOCs emissions from small businesses.  The MPCA is a founding member of CAM.

There are many ways small businesses can reduce VOCs, but often they need help with the upfront costs.  The MPCA recently awarded over $500,000 in grant funding to 13 small businesses for projects such as converting to water-based paint at an auto body shop or switching to powder-coat paint in a manufacturing plant.  Together, these projects will reduce almost seven tons of VOCs every year for years to come.  You can learn more about these projects and CAM’s efforts here. There’s also a video about one grant award winner, Oscar Auto Body in South Minneapolis, here.   

Together, these businesses and other CAM partners have reduced VOCs by more than 68 tons per year -- equivalent to about 136,000 cans of spray paint. 

Available Now: Multilingual Air Quality and Health Videos


Find out what it means when there’s an air quality alert, how it affects your health, and what to do about it.   The Pollution Control Agency and Department of Health are reaching out to communities who speak English as a second language to raise awareness of air quality in Minnesota. We live in a culturally diverse state with many immigrant communities. Over 10 % of the state’s population, totaling more than half a million Minnesotans, speak another language at home according to the last census. MPCA partnered with Twin Cities-based ECHO Minnesota (Emergency, Community, Health, and Outreach), a leader in multi-language education and outreach, to create videos about air quality and health. The programming is available in Spanish, Hmong, Somali, and English.  It highlights the health effects of exposure to poor air quality and encourages people to take action to minimize risks and reduce air pollution.  The videos were first broadcast on TPT television on August 3rd.  The videos are available through the website and MPCA’s YouTube Channel

Environmental Justice Framework

For two months ending July 15, the MPCA held informational meetings and sought comments on a draft plan for ensuring that all Minnesotans benefit from the same level of environmental protection, especially people of color and lower-income Minnesotans.  This plan, MPCA’s draft Environmental Justice Framework, identifies strategies for many of the MPCA’s program areas.  The plan will be revised to address comments received during the comment period and the final plan will be available this fall.   For more information, contact Ned Brooks, MPCA’s Environmental Justice Coordinator at or 651-757-2557. 

Smoke in Minnesota’s skies

smoke recap

Monday, July 6 was a day of interesting air quality changes in Minnesota, when we got a double whammy in the form of an incoming front and smoke from Canadian wildfires. In the early morning, heavy rainfall across central and eastern Minnesota helped clean the air of smoke and hazy debris from the fires. But that respite was short-lived, as the air behind the frontal system from the northwest brought high-level smoke to the surface across northwestern and western Minnesota.

Hourly air quality index (AQI) values began to climb into the range of 100 to 150, or Moderate to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. By mid-morning, values had reached the Unhealthy range, exceeding the critical 150 index value. Visibility dropped to 1-2 miles in many locations including Detroit Lakes, Brainerd, Marshall, and St. Cloud.

MPCA staff meteorologists noted not only the rising AQI values and visibility issues but also a distinct milky white area on visible satellite imagery. With the frontal system moving off to the east-southeast, the winds coming behind the system along with the sun emerging helped to make the air more unstable which allowed the smoke to mix down to ground levels.  Heavy smoke moved east across the state, reaching the Twin Cities metro by the afternoon.


MPCA called an Air Quality Alert for the Twin Cities as well as Rochester, but that wasn’t news to Minnesotans in the north and west whose lungs and itchy eyes had already told them of the bad air. The plume made its way across the metro like an oozing blob and amazingly made a fairly quick exit by the early evening hours into western Wisconsin and southeast Minnesota including the Rochester area. Hourly AQI values reached 187 in the Twin Cities, a value not seen in over a decade. However, because of the way air quality values are calculated and averaged, the final AQI value was 115 for the full day.

Despite the short duration, July 6 was one intense air-quality day that definitely made an impact across the state of Minnesota.  For more details on the event and the ongoing threat of smoke and air quality issues due to Canadian wildfires, see the MnDNR State Climate Office story.  To keep abreast of current air quality and what to do to protect yourself and your health, visit

Comparison photos

Learn before you burn!

learn before you burn

Many people wax nostalgic when they smell burning wood.  Wood smoke may remind them of summer evenings around a campfire with s’mores or cozy nights in front of the fireplace.  Pleasant as the memories are, breathing wood smoke comes with health impacts.  The particles released when wood burns are so tiny that they can work their way through the lungs into the circulatory system, contributing to increased instances of asthma, heart attacks, and strokes.   Health impacts can be detected even below the level of federal standards for particles. 

To address these concerns, the American Lung Association has created an advertising campaign visible around Minnesota called “Learn Before You Burn.”  The goal is to lessen the impact of burning wood in recreational fires, outdoor furnaces, wood stoves, and fireplaces.  Here are the six steps suggested for citizens:  

  1. Use only dry, aged wood
  2. Burn only firewood
  3. Never let a fire smolder
  4. Talk with your neighbors before a fire
  5. Don't burn on air alert days
  6. Consider alternatives to burning wood.

For further information on impacts of wood smoke, visit

Youth learn about air quality at the MPCA

Helen and kids

Do you remember a person or experience that influenced your choices about college, work, or volunteerism? Each of us is on a life-long journey to discover work that is meaningful and valued.  Exposure to possible careers and real-life work places can be an important part of that journey. Even during high school, students need to make choices about course work, college, and summer jobs, which will influence the skills and knowledge they develop.

Testing smoke

That’s why the MPCA invited 14 high school students from Minneapolis Public Schools to learn over three days about the types of jobs offered at the MPCA and how the work might connect with their interests.  Here they learned about many areas of work, including monitoring and protecting air quality. MPCA air quality staff worked hard to expose students to their careers in air quality and give them real-world and hands-on experiences. Students received an introduction to fine particles and learned about some of the health issues they present. They also got to learn about the Air Quality Index (AQI) while exploring MPCA’s website.

More activities included the chance to experiment with air quality monitoring equipment. AirBeam monitors were used in an outdoor activity to test air quality where they experimented with candles, incense, a “dragon puffer,” and vehicle emissions. MPCA staff also gave the students a tour of the air lab, showing them the equipment they use on a daily basis. To learn about other activities that occurred throughout the exploration, visit the MPCA website.

In the news

Supreme Court decision on Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

The Supreme Court decided Michigan et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency et al. on June 29, 2015.  The Court held that, according to the Clean Air Act, the EPA should have considered costs differently in developing its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) to regulate electric power plants.  The ruling is unlikely to have much impact in Minnesota.  Most facilities here that were covered under the MATS have already either added mercury controls to their permits and are thus required to operate them or have shut down.  Additionally, state statute already required mercury controls on some facilities in Minnesota and those controls will remain in effect.  For more information on the ruling and to read the opinion, visit SCOTUSblog.

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