Canadian wildfire smoke causes worst-ever air quality in Twin Cities
The Twin Cities set a new daily air quality index record Wednesday as smoke from Canadian wildfires drifted into Minnesota.
As of 9 p.m. Wednesday, the Twin Cities saw a 24-hour average AQI of 170, shattering the previous record of 130, according to KSTP Meteorologist Wren Clair.
The AQI steadily rose throughout the day, peaking at 261 around 7 p.m. The Environmental Protection Agency considers an AQI above 200 “very unhealthy” for all people.
Earlier in the day, an air sensor in St. Michael registered an air quality index of 212 Wednesday afternoon.
It was the first time since June 7, 1988, an air quality sensor in the metro produced a reading in the very unhealthy category, according to KSTP Meteorologist Matt Serwe.
Several cities around the Twin Cities were canceling outdoor activities Wednesday due to the poor conditions.
The Minneapolis, Plymouth and Arden Hills park districts had all canceled outdoor recreation programming, while the Bloomington Family Aquatic Center closed for the day. Some recreational sports leagues had called off games and practices, too, and Minnesota Aurora moved its match indoors.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS found some folks who chose to brave the smoky air.
“Yeah, it’s unfortunate, the air quality is just bad,” declares Pauline Vang, from St. Paul. “Hopefully, it’s not like this tomorrow.”
Vang and her mother took their usual afternoon walk Wednesday in Como Park.
Both decided to wear masks.
“I have asthma too, so it’s kind of like, I don’t know, kind of a strain on me, so we’re walking a little bit slower today,” she says. “But the small and the quality, it’s just really heavy.”
“It smells horrible, and you obviously can’t see across to the other side,” says Grayson Lecher, who lives near the park. “It’s kind of hard to breathe. It feels a little like stressed in the lungs area, I guess.”
Wednesday’s air quality was some of the worst on record in the Twin Cities. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued air quality alerts across the state advising people to stay indoors and limit activity.
“Ozone and particulates are things that can irritate the lungs, irritate the eyes and the nose,” said Dr. Andrew Stiehm with the Allina Health United Lung and Sleep Clinic. “If you’re someone who has the choice between taking a bike ride outside or a bike ride in the gym, today might be a good day to take that bike ride at the gym.”
Those particulates, smaller than a human hair, could contain metals or plastic carried along with wildfire smoke.
“The fine particulates are a complex mixture of heavy metals and other components that all together, they are of concern from a health perspective,” explains Jessie Carr, an epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health. “Because of the small size, they can penetrate deeply into the lungs, and they can affect the heart and the circulatory system.”
Air quality alerts in place until Friday
An air quality alert remains in place until 6 a.m. Friday morning for a large region of central and southern Minnesota stretching from Mille Lacs to Mankato and from Alexandria to the Twin Cities. An air quality alert was expected to expire Thursday for the northern reaches of Minnesota, including Duluth and Bemidji.
AQI levels around the state reached levels the MPCA considers to be unhealthy for everyone.
Irritation of the eyes, nose and throat may be experienced by anyone, as well as coughing, chest tightness or shortness of breath. If someone is sensitive to the conditions, or is more exposed to the conditions, you may have worsening of existing heart or lung disease.
Although air quality is expected to get better for northern Minnesota on Thursday, the MPCA says there will still be smoke across southern parts of the state throughout Thursday before it dissipates Friday morning.
Meteorologist Chris Reece says this is the 15th air quality alert for the season across the state and the 13th for the Twin Cities metro. Both of those are above the agency’s initial MPCA forecast of three to five alerts for the entire summer.
Reece adds the record number of alerts happened in 2021, when 20 alerts were issued.