Minnesota is known for pure, sky blue water and fresh, clean air.

When it comes to air quality, in fact, the state meets or exceeds all federal standards.

Even under those conditions, though, air pollution contributes to up to 4,000 early deaths annually in Minnesota, according to a new report by the Minnesota Department of Health.

The report, “Life and Breath: How Air Pollution Affects Health in Minnesota,” goes beyond a similar 2015 study that looked only at the Twin Cities metro area. The new study looks at all areas of the state, including southeastern Minnesota, where there are relatively high concentrations of particles in the air.

About 2,000 to 4,000 premature deaths in the state each year are in some way attributable to air pollution, the report found.

“People might say these are small numbers, but from our perspective these are alarming numbers,” said Jan Malcom, Minnesota Commissioner of Health, in a meeting with the Post-Bulletin’s editorial board.

“The report,” she said, “clearly demonstrates that air quality and health are closely linked.”

Also, she said, “The message to us is that this is an issue statewide, not just in the metro area.”

That recognition is important, because rural counties where more people are without health insurance or are living in poverty tend to have the higher health-related impacts from air pollution, according to the report.

Across the state, senior citizens, people with pre-existing heart or lung conditions, and children with uncontrolled asthma are especially at risk due to poor air quality.

Just improving air quality even slightly will reduce premature deaths, Malcolm said.

But, she added, indications are that the fight to retain clean air in Minnesota will be made more difficult due to population growth and climate change.

What all of this means is that for Minnesotans, no matter where they live in the state, air quality should be a front-and-center issue.

Yes, the state’s air is cleaner than that in many other states. But, as Malcolm said, “This is not a time to rest on our laurels.”

Vigilance and determination will be needed in the future to keep Minnesota’s air clean, and to make it even cleaner — and healthier for all of us.

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