2010 March 9: MN Rochester: air quality not good past month

2010 March 9: MN Rochester: air quality not good past month

3/9/2010 10:18:34 AM
By Jeff Hansel
The Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Air quality alerts for sensitive groups

October 2009: None
October 2008: None

November 2009: 3
November 2008: None

December 2009: None
December 2008: None

January 2010: None
January 2009: 1

February 2010: 2
February 2009: None

March 2010 as of today: 4
March 2009: None

If you live in Rochester, you haven’t had a good breath of fresh air much of this year.

The city has had "good" air quality on only five of the past 30 days.

The rest of the time, we’ve all been breathing either moderate air pollution or, on three occasions, air that’s "unhealthy for sensitive groups."

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency air quality specialist Cassie McMahon said Rochester’s pollution is a mix of auto emissions, power plant emissions, particles created from chemical reactions in the atmosphere and pollution brought in with the wind from other states.

Because Rochester is in a bowl, "there isn’t much room for the pollution to move."

It’s hard to compare this year to previous years because air quality standards have changed and one year’s fluctuations do not necessarily indicate a pattern.

Rochester’s air quality was good this morning, McMahon said, but was expected to possibly rise again later, so the alert remains in effect. Thursday through Saturday are expected to be good air days, according to the MPCA.

Between Oct. 1, 2009, and today, there have been nine alerts for people in sensitive groups, such as the elderly, young children and people who exert themselves physically outdoors. That’s a significant increase from the previous year, when only one alert was issued during the same time period.

Also, if days are counted when air quality was considered only "moderate" rather than good, there have been 60 days of imperfect air since Oct. 1, compared with 37 days the previous year, according to data on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency‘s Web site.

What happens when you breathe polluted air? It can cause "chest pain, shortness of breath, and/or coughing and fatigue," the agency says. If you experience symptoms, contact your doctor, it says.

Effects can continue "even after air quality has improved," because fine particulate matter in the pollution gets breathed deeply into the lungs.

What causes air pollution? Weather can affect it, causing pollution from outside the area to settle here.

Exhaust from vehicles contribute. And, coal-burning power plants release pollutants into the air. The current situation can’t be attributed directly to Rochester Public Utilities, said Tony Benson, RPUcommunications coordinator. Benson said plant operation in Rochester has "been substantially lower than in past years."

RPU probably only had one generator online Monday to provide steam to Mayo Clinic, he said.

Health reporter Jeff Hansel (285-7615) writes a blog Pulse on Health at http://www.postbulletin.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeffHansel

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