City Coordinator's Office

350 S. 5th St, Room 301M
Minneapolis, MN 55415

Outdoor air quality

This is a pilot of a new, interactive way to publish Results Minneapolis reports. Expand each section of the report by clicking the headings (marked with a “+” symbol). Hover your cursor over the data points to explore the data and draw your own insights. Use the scroll bars to see all the data and use the check boxes to change the data that you see. We recommend using Google Chrome to view this page.


What is this report?

    City Goal Results Minneapolis roundtables are focused on answering the question "Are we there yet?" by reporting progress on our community indicators. These reports are analytical in nature and focused on making connections with cross-sector data. Creating these reports requires input from multiple departments and, in many cases, external participants. The goal of this initiative is to reflect the realities being experienced in our communities. The objectives of the report and roundtable are to 1) have a new and different understanding of the indicator and 2) think differently about solutions.

    This report was created with participation from the Minneapolis Health Department.

Why outdoor air quality?

    The City is concerned about outdoor air quality because outdoor air pollution harms the health of Minneapolis residents. Outdoor air pollution is one of many causes of health disparities among Minneapolis residents.

    Outdoor air quality also impacts the Minneapolis economy because if air pollution exceeds federal standards, businesses are required to implement extra pollution control technologies which can be expensive.

    The Minneapolis Health Department recently completed the Air Quality: A Neighborhood Approach study, which measured the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) at approximately 100 monitoring sites. This study found that at some monitoring sites, benzene and tetrachloroethylene and certain other VOCs exceeded health risk benchmarks.


Expand to view framework

     City Goal Results Minneapolis - Outdoor air quality framework FINAL


1. The City’s role in influencing our broad indicators of PM2.5 and ozone is to be stewards of our local and regional air quality by taking the action we can to limit emissions and to avoid making air quality worse. We have a responsibility to protect people who are exposed to outdoor air pollution where they live, work and play.

    How to read these charts: The charts below show the number of days with air pollutant concentrations exceeding health benchmarks by year from 2000-2015. The first chart shows PM2.5 and the second chart shows ground-level ozone. Data marked as yellow, orange or red represents days above Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee recommended values to be most protective of public health. Data marked as green represents days where the air quality is considered good. Data source: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

    Note: Complete year-round data is not available for all years. The required ozone monitoring season is from April-October. Because the PM2.5 results are limited to Minneapolis monitors, missing data is due to site maintenance or outages.

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    How to read this map: The map below shows modeled PM2.5 concentrations in 2011 for the metro area. Data source: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency 

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2. Air pollution comes from many sources. While we generally know which of these sources contribute the most, misperceptions can distract us from focusing on what we know would have the biggest overall impact.

  • We generally know what types of pollution have the biggest impacts, but there are misperceptions about what those are. For example, when people think of air pollution, they often think of smoke stacks. While smoke stacks do contribute to air pollution, state and federal regulation has decreased the share of pollution coming from smokestacks over time.

    How to read this chart: This chart shows the reductions in Minnesota point source emissions from 2005-2014. The greatest statewide reductions have taken place for sulfur dioxide (SO2), lead, and nitrogen oxide (NOx). Data source: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

    MPCA point source reduction

3. Some people are more susceptible to health impacts from air pollution because of the combined effects of underlying disparities in social determinants of health and proximity to pollution sources. The City should place a greater focus on area sources of air pollution than on regional air quality.

  • Even though we know what the biggest overall sources of air pollution are, these sources are often distributed unequally across the city.
  • People are not generally “next door” to point sources because of zoning, but can be next door to area sources such as roads, construction, and dry cleaners. There is often a separation between industrial and residential land uses (Minneapolis zoning map).
  • Regional air quality monitoring conducted by the State of Minnesota gives an overall picture of air pollution that everyone is exposed to. While air pollution has health effects on everyone, it is important to acknowledge that a pollutant that is small overall may impact some people in some areas more than others.

    How to read this map: The map below illustrates the proximity of Minneapolis child care facilities, schools, and residents to roadways with high traffic volumes. Data sources: Minnesota Department of Transportation, Minnesota Department of Education, Minnesota Department of Health, U.S. Census Bureau

    Note: According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "there is no clear “bright line” to define “near” or “far” from a road. However, based on air quality measurements and modeling, in most cases, concentrations are generally highest on and/or nearest the roadway, while increasing distance from the road generally reduces concentrations to background levels within 500-600 feet though this distance will vary by pollutant in time and location."

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    3a. Proximity to traffic

    How to read these charts: The map and charts below show the results of the Minneapolis Air Quality: A Neighborhood Approach study. Data source: Minneapolis Health Department

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    3b. Air Quality in Minneapolis: A Neighborhood Approach

     How to read this map:  The map below shows the locations of businesses participating in the Minneapolis Green Business Cost Share program and current or potential future participants in a similar program run by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Data sources: Minneapolis Health Department, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

    To learn more about these programs, short YouTube videos are available about the Minneapolis Green Business Cost Share Program and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency program.

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    3c. Minneapolis and MPCA area source program sites

     How to read this chart: The chart below shows the estimated amount of pollution avoided through the Minneapolis Green Business Cost Share program. Data source: Minneapolis Health Department

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4. Determining the biggest opportunities for City action does not only involve focusing on the largest pollution sources. It also involves focusing on sources that are not already regulated by other entities such as the state and federal government, or going above and beyond regulatory standards to meet health standards. From a City perspective, the biggest areas for the City to improve air pollution are on and off-road mobile sources and area sources.

  • Filling this gap can be difficult because when levers to improve air pollution don’t exist, we have to invent them. This involves working with businesses to overcome obstacles to go beyond regulatory standards.
  • On and off-road mobile sources and area sources are either not as heavily regulated or not regulated by us. The City doesn’t currently have as many policy levers that influence these sources.
  • City action can also help the state by being a “lab” to test policies and other approaches.

    How to read this chart: The first chart below shows the number of total commuters that either lived in Minneapolis, worked in Minneapolis, or both over the years 2002 to 2014. Data source: U.S. Census Bureau. The second chart below shows the percent of Minneapolis workers age 16 and older who commute to work using various modes of transportation. Data source: American Community Survey (Table S0801, 2010-2014 5-year estimates).

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5. When we have the capacity to put interventions in place to improve air pollution, these interventions work. Their positive impact extends to other aspects of the City’s work.

  • Trees can reduce air pollution. While the number of trees planted on public land by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has increased over time, diseases and pests such as Dutch Elm Disease and Emerald Ash Borer continue to pose threats. Increased planting on private land is also necessary to protect our tree canopy.
  • Climate change may exacerbate the effects of outdoor air pollution. Action to mitigate or adapt to climate change often improves outdoor air quality as well. The City of Minneapolis Climate Action Plan provides a roadmap toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Minneapolis.

    How to read this chart: The graph below illustrates the number of trees lost and planted on public land, the number of trees planted on commercial property through the Minneapolis Urban Forestry Project, and the number of trees sold by the Tree Trust between 2006 and 2014. Data sources: Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Minneapolis Health Department, Tree Trust

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    How to read this chart: The image below illustrates estimated 2014 greenhouse gas (CO2e) emissions by community-wide activity. Data source: Minneapolis Sustainability Office

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Discussion questions

Expand to view questions

  1. The gap between regulatory standards and health standards is hard to bridge and sustain. How can we build on existing levers or invent new ones in order to do this work?
  2. The City often takes a "bottom up" approach to air quality protection, meaning we work with individuals, small groups or businesses to address air quality issues. This is different from the "top down" regulatory approach agencies often take. How do we find ways to support and mobilize around this "bottom up" work?
  3. How do we prioritize and stay focused on our core work of dealing with the biggest contributors to bad air quality?
  4. How can we energize the public about area sources the way they are about point sources? Similarly, how can we energize the public around collaborative actions to improve air quality rather than or in addition to lawsuits and shutdowns?


Last updated Dec 29, 2016



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