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GreenStep City Best Practices Environmental Management

Local Air Quality
no. 23

Prevent generation of local air contaminants to improve community health.

Best Practice Actions    [See action tools, guidance, city reports]

  • Launched in 2015, Be Air Aware from the MN Pollution Control Agency and its partners is a new resource for citizens, communities, and businesses concerned about health and air quality. The site distills and simplifies information about all major air pollutants in Minnesota — both outdoor air and indoor air - and covers research, current air quality across the state, and actions to improve air quality. Employers - city government and businesses - can sign-up to become an Air Aware Employers and alert their staff during air quality alerts with messages about actions to cut air pollutants.
  • Explore interactive maps to see statewide and local air pollution modeling showing the cumulative impacts of fine particles and air toxic pollutants. This MPCA tool allows users to (1) identify primary sources of air pollution in your city, (2) view the impact of busy roads, and (3) understand related health risks. A MN Dept. of Health web site shows (under "Explore Data") the percentage of residents living within 300 meters of busy roads, where air pollution from motor vehicle traffic is highest.
  • Vehicles with diesel engines represent only 10% of traffic on Minnesota roads, but contribute a significant amount of the air pollution generated by vehicles in the state. According to EPA estimates, for every dollar spent on diesel emission reductions there are $13 dollars in health benefits.
  • Outdoor wood boilers can emit 1,000 times more pollution than traditional indoor gas and oil furnaces and warrant attention if they emit more than allowed under EPA's Step 1 fine particle emission standards. These boilers exacerbate health risks when located in more densely populated areas, in areas with steep topography, and when near large water bodies.
  • Air pollution levels in homes are often two to five times higher than outdoors, according to EPA studies. Many years of attention to indoor smoking has improved indoor air quality, but now widely available non-toxic paints, cleaners, furnishings, options to avoid fragrance chemicals, and other home products make further improvements possible.
  • Residential wood smoke contains fine particles and toxic air pollutants, some of which are probable human carcinogens. If all of the old wood stoves in the U.S. were changed out to cleaner burning hearth appliances, estimates are that at least $35 billion in health benefits per year could be realized from eliminating premature deaths, non-fatal heart attacks, chronic bronchitis, and asthma attacks. EPA-certified wood stoves, though much cleaner than uncertified stoves and fireplaces, still create roughly 150 times more harmful fine particles than a gas furnace.
Optional for category A, B and C cities
Category B and C cities that choose to implement this best practice are recognized upon completion of at least one action.

Category A cities that choose to implement this best practice are recognized upon completion of at least two actions.
Through implementation of GreenStep City land use and transportation best practices, cities can shape physical development patterns and the actions of community members such that vehicle miles traveled are decreased, and thus air pollution from vehicles is decreased. Air pollution from other sources - businesses and local power plants - can be cut through implementation of actions in the GreenStep business assistance and renewable energy best practices.
In addition to these actions, cities can take additional measures to support the actions of community members that result in lower outdoor and indoor air pollution, improved public health and decreased health care costs. Several of these actions have cities conducting, or assisting others to conduct, education campaigns tied to making it easier/cheaper for citizens and businesses to adopt behaviors or equipment that prevent or reduce the generation of air pollutants.
greenstep advisor
Mary Jean Fenske, MN Pollution Control Agency: 651/757-2354, maryjean.fenske@state.mn.us
connection to state Policy

While Minnesota cities have overall air pollution levels that typically fall under state/national standards, local air quality can be compromised by a variety of specific conditions, which cities can address by targeted actions.