Living Green 365: Air pollution from vehicles

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Living Green 365

Air pollution from vehicles

Cars are more than 90 percent cleaner now than in 1970. And yet, air pollution from vehicles has not improved as much as everyone hoped. This is because there are more cars driving more miles.

Breathing polluted air is unhealthy for everyone, especially pregnant women, kids, the elderly, and people with asthma or other heart or respiratory diseases. Today, nearly 30 million adults and children in the United States have been diagnosed with asthma.

Cars and trucks are responsible for about half the air pollution in Minnesota. Pollution from vehicles includes:
  • Carbon monoxide–a gas that reduces oxygen delivery to the body’s organs.
  • Nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds–two ingredients in ground-level ozone. Ground-level ozone is unhealthy to breathe and causes smog.
  • Fine particles--microscopic particles that can trigger asthma and heart attacks.
There are important laws to help keep the air clean–such as the Clean Air Act of 1970–but decisions we all make, including what to drive and how often to drive, are important parts of the solution. Here are things you can do to reduce air pollution from cars and trucks:

Never idle. Vehicle idling creates a hot spot of pollution, often around people. Cut unnecessary idling when waiting to pick someone up or drop something off. Many cities have anti-idling ordinances, including the City of Minneapolis. Idling is also not allowed by buses at Minnesota schools.

Bike and walk within two miles. Challenge yourself to try biking or walking every time you make a trip within two miles of your home.
  • Find a pedestrian-friendly route by selecting “walking” or “biking” as modes of travel when planning your route via Google maps.
  • Check out the Bike Walk Twin Cities website for resources to get started.
  • Remember to follow the rules of the road so that biking is safe for bikers and vehicles alike.
While biking and walking may cause you to breathe heavily near traffic, a recent analysis found that the health benefits of bicycling are substantially larger than the risks, relative to car driving. Ride on!

Diversify your commute. Try to replace your work commute one day a week with a rideshare or telework option. You can find a car or van pool to join through Metro Transit’s website. Resources for telecommuting are available at the EWorkPlace Minnesota website. Pledge to travel any way other than driving alone at least once between now and June 30 through the 2012 Commuter Challenge and you'll be eligible for great prizes, like Kindles, Netbooks, Kindle Fires and gift cards.

Drive efficiently. Make the most of the fuel you burn. Adopt these efficient driving habits:
  • Slow down and accelerate gradually.
  • Remove excess weight from your car, like sports equipment or a roof rack not in use.
  • Turn off your air conditioning and open the windows when driving on city streets.
  • Use cruise control on the highway—except during icy weather or heavy traffic.
  • Keep your tires properly inflated.
Don’t remove, defeat or bypass emissions equipment including catalytic converters, diesel particulate filters (traps), or engine control modules or chips. The emission control equipment is largely responsible for your new car being 90 percent cleaner than old cars. It is also illegal to tamper with or remove this equipment.

Maintain your vehicle according to the owner’s manual and pay attention to your “check engine” light.

Consider fuel efficiency the next time you are in the market to buy, lease, or rent a car. The U.S. Department of Energy has an online guide to find and compare cars. Also consider electric vehicles (EVs). EVs do not use an internal combustion engine and emit no tailpipe exhaust.

Be “air aware.” The weather causes local air quality to vary day-to-day. The MPCA reports the daily air quality conditions for the Twin Cities and several other Minnesota locations. It is helpful if individuals minimize their contribution to air pollution on bad air days. You can sign up to receive air-quality information via email or text message.

Minnesota GreenCorps member spotlight

Minnesota GreenCorps member
Minnesota GreenCorps is an AmeriCorps program run through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Members gain valuable skills and job experience in the environmental field while giving back to the communities in which they serve. Minnesota GreenCorps is now accepting applications from individuals interested in serving as a Minnesota GreenCorps AmeriCorps member. Apply through May 30.

Cristina Villella, a Minnesota GreenCorps member in Duluth, shares her experience in the program.

About Cristina:

I grew up in the Twin Cities and attended college at St. Cloud State University where I majored in Environmental Studies. After graduating, I spent a year working at the Science Museum of Minnesota and volunteering at local schools. While I had the education and motivation to succeed, I was looking for an opportunity to gain experience and build connections within the environmental field; that’s when I found Minnesota GreenCorps.

A day in her life as an AmeriCorps member:

I am serving as a Living Green member at the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD), located in Duluth. WLSSD is a solid waste authority, wastewater treatment plant, yard waste/compost site, household hazardous waste facility, materials recovery center, and more. The staff at WLSSD are knowledgeable, share their experience, and help me learn and succeed.

My primary role is working with the Duluth area schools to improve their waste management programs. Day-to-day tasks range from delivering recycling bins to conducting classroom lesson plans. I’m also involved with organizing green teams, tracking waste, right-sizing containers, diverting food waste in cafeterias, creating educational resources, and much, much more. It’s very exciting to have the opportunity to initiate programs, work through the logistics, and measure success. It allows me to be a part of something that is directly making our community and environment a better place!

Why she serves with the Minnesota GreenCorps:

I originally joined Minnesota GreenCorps to gain work experience in the environmental field, but it has become much more. I’m creating connections with numerous individuals and organizations, learning new things daily, and experiencing all aspects of the field. In addition, I am discovering my own strengths, becoming an active part of a community, and opening exciting possibilities for my future. It’s a great program and I’m happy to serve with Minnesota GreenCorps!

Community events and resources

Celebrate Earth Day on April 22--this Sunday--by spending time in nature. Find activities and new places to explore in Minnesota using the Families Outdoors website.

Interested in sustainability in the St. Cloud Area? Spend an afternoon exploring local resources and information at the 2012 Sustainability Expo, April 22, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., St. Cloud State University.

Waste reduction and recycling grants are available for community organizations and schools in Ramsey, Washington, Anoka, Hennepin, Dakota or Carver counties through the Community POWER Grant Program. Community groups, such as neighborhood organizations, schools, churches, senior citizen groups, youth organizations, and civic groups are eligible. Apply online at

Recycle expired or damaged children's car seats through Recycling Association of Minnesota's REseat program. Several collection events are scheduled throughout the spring.

Thank you for reading Living Green 365. This newsletter is a publication of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Please send questions or comments about living green to the address below.
Britt Gangeness and the Living Green Team