As EPA grants $50M for air quality monitoring, many Minnesota locales breathe easy

A Minnesota city and reservation will be receiving federal funding for air quality monitoring, but many of Minnesota’s cities and counties has some of the best quality air in the nation.

Sunflower and sky
A lone sunflower glows in the sun under a blue sky in Rice Lake Township in 2017.
Duluth News Tribune file photo
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RED LAKE, Minn. — Though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday, Nov. 3, it will issue more than 130 grants totaling over $50 million for various air quality monitoring projects, many Minnesotans can breathe easy knowing their air quality is already some of the best in the nation.

The grants — which serve as one of the EPA’s largest air pollution monitoring investments in the agency’s 52-year existence — come as a breath of fresh air that will revitalize the monitoring of pollutants in the air and form any necessary action plans after decades of declining investment. According to the Government Office of Accountability, funding for monitoring programs has declined roughly 20% since 2004.

In Minnesota, the Red Lake Nation will receive $67,500 to install and operate an air quality monitor on the Red Lake Indian Reservation north of Bemidji, while the City of Minneapolis will receive $411,170 to collaborate with representatives in environmental justice neighborhoods and community-based organizations to monitor for exposures to pollutants from industrial and residential activities, including traffic.

The EPA said $30 million of the funding comes from the Inflation Reduction Act, and that most recipients selected across 37 states will receive between $200,000 and $500,000 for projects that primarily consist of monitoring hazardous substances such as hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants that can cause serious health issues if consistently inhaled.

In 2021, a similar set of grants to monitor air pollution totaled only $30 million.


Where in Minnesota is the cleanest air?

While Minnesota may be receiving federal funds to monitor air quality in certain locations, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the air quality is poor, unhealthy or dangerous. In fact, multiple Minnesota cities and counties ranked in the top 25 for air cleanliness in a 2022 study.

Each year, the American Lung Association (ALA) publishes their State of the Air address. Serving as the organization’s report card, it uses EPA data to evaluate two different kinds of pollution: ozone pollution, more commonly known as smog, and particle pollution, commonly known as soot.

After analyzing the data, the ALA grades and ranks cities and counties based on their scores for ozone pollution, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution levels.

In their 2022 study, which analyzed data from 2019 through 2021, several Minnesota cities and counties ranked as some of the cleanest in each category.

  • For short-term particle pollution, the La Crosse-Onalaska area was ranked as having some of the cleanest air, as did the counties of Anoka, Becker, Carlton, Cook, Lake, Lyon, Stearns and Wright.
  • For year-round particle pollution, the Duluth area was named among the cleanest, as were the counties of Carlton, Cook and Lake.
  • For ozone pollution, the Duluth, La Crosse-Onalaska and Rochester-Austin areas ranked best, as did the counties of Carlton, Hennepin, Lake, Lyon, Mille Lacs, Olmsted, St. Louis and Washington.

Multiple other cities and counties in North and South Dakota also earned top marks. Generally, the highest pollution rates across all categories were measured in California, Oregon and Washington. Not all counties have air quality monitors, and were excluded from the study.
More details, including specific scores for each of the cleanest localities in each category, can be found in the ALA’s annual report.

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021 and now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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