CHESTER — Although Minnesota air quality is overall good, health and environmental officials estimate that air quality contributed to thousands of premature deaths across the state, according to a new report.
The Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency released a study Tuesday on the role air pollution plays in public health.
State health commissioner Jan Malcolm and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency commissioner Laura Bishop joined local and county officials at Chester Woods for a public release and discussion of the report Tuesday.
Malcolm said the report expands a 2015 air quality report for the Twin Cities to a statewide scope. She said holding the event outside the metro area was fitting for the expanded report.
One of those partners, Ashok Patel, a lung doctor and specialist at Mayo Clinic, said the report shows leaders the impact environmental policies have on public health.
“When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters — try it,” Patel said.
Malcolm and Patel both noted that environmental inequalities exist in Minnesota.
“It’s conditions in our communities that either create the opportunity to be healthy or threaten our opportunity to be healthy,” Malcolm said. “To really achieve a healthy Minnesota, we need to confront squarely where health inequities exist and where they come from.”
The report is based on data from 2013. According to the report, air quality issues factored into between 5 percent and 10 percent of Minnesota deaths and about 1 percent to 5 percent of hospital and emergency room visits, Bishop said.
That means air quality played a role in up to 4,000 deaths and 800 emergency room visits, she said.
Patel noted that air quality can contribute to or worsen multiple illnesses and syndromes. Poor air quality can cause or worsen asthma and pulmonary disorders, but studies also show it can also contribute to stroke risk and other illnesses such as diabetes and certain cancers.
Malcolm noted climate change is going to make addressing air quality more urgent.
“Air quality is not going to stay static,” she said.
In an interview after the event, Malcolm noted how recent wildfires in Canada caused poor air quality alerts across the state. She said reports like this can put pressure on policy makers abroad.
“Documenting some of these effects helps, I hope,” she said. “It draws attention from national and international policy makers.”
More data on the issue will also help, Bishop said.
Dawn Beck, Olmsted County Associate Director of Public Health, agreed. She said the city’s one state-funded air quality monitoring station atop Ben Franklin Elementary School isn’t enough.
“The one we have isn’t really representative of the community,” Beck said. “Whenever we make decisions about public health, it’s a good idea to have more data.”