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MN Improves Air-Quality Reporting System

The air quality index forecast team at the MPCA analyzes data from monitors at 17 locations. (Roberta Heine/Minnesota Association of Professional Employees)
The air quality index forecast team at the MPCA analyzes data from monitors at 17 locations. (Roberta Heine/Minnesota Association of Professional Employees)
January 22, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Scientists with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency have developed a way to notify more Minnesotans sooner about air pollution - and save the state money at the same time.

Since June, the state agency has increased the number of locations it monitors, and is using artificial intelligence to make more accurate forecasts. Steve Irwin is an air quality meteorologist with the MPCA. He said the new system will matter most to people working outdoors and those with respiratory issues.

"It's good to limit your physical activity. Folks with asthma can review their asthma action plans, and they can just pay a little more attention to their symptoms that day,” Irwin said. “If they know the air quality is going to be poor, then they can be more cognizant of those things, and be ready to act if something does go wrong."

The program relies on free online weather predictions, in addition to the air quality monitors already in place.

Irwin said thanks to artificial intelligence, forecasts can now take minutes instead of hours. The statewide program won a 2017 Innovation Award from the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Irwin said while most days are still good in Minnesota in terms of air quality, wildfires in California have had an effect.

"Changing climate is definitely having an impact on our air quality here,” he said. “Climate change has caused larger and longer droughts out West; it's also shortened the duration of the snowpack."

Irwin and a colleague will be presenting their work at a national conference on air quality in Texas this week. Air quality forecasts and alerts are available on the MPCA website or its mobile app.

Laurie Stern, Public News Service - MN