Understand the Health Risks of Air Pollution and Sign up for Alerts

As the outdoor temperature rises in the spring and summer, so does the risk of air pollution – especially in highly populated metropolitan areas.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency updates its Air Quality Index hourly and offers a number of tools to alert people when pollution is approaching unhealthy levels:

When the air quality index value in the Twin Cities reaches 101, the level considered "unhealthy for sensitive groups" by the MPCA, the university will notify the community by posting the alert status on the Newsroom homepage with a link to this article. Information will also be distributed via Twitter. (Follow the University of St. Thomas on Twitter.)

At-risk populations: If an alert is issued, it means that ozone is expected to be near a level that is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups. Those sensitive to ozone include people with pre-existing respiratory conditions, the elderly, children, and individuals who participate in outdoor activities requiring extended or heavy exertion. These individuals are encouraged to postpone or reduce vigorous outdoor activity, or schedule outdoor activity in the morning, when ozone levels are lower. Even those who are otherwise healthy may experience health effects when ozone levels increase.

Health impacts: Elevated levels of ozone have been linked with respiratory health effects. Exposure to high levels of ozone may exacerbate pre-existing health conditions. High ozone levels may make it more difficult to breathe deeply and vigorously, cause shortness of breath and breathing discomfort, and result in coughing and a sore or scratchy throat. If you experience these symptoms, contact your physician.

Pollution-reduction tips: Ozone is produced on hot, sunny days by a chemical reaction between volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen. These pollutants are released from motor vehicles, lawn and garden equipment, paints and solvents, refueling stations, and other activities that require fuel combustion. Conserving energy; buying clean, renewable power; and utilizing alternative means of transportation will all reduce your contribution to air pollution. During air quality advisories, residents are particularly encouraged to postpone or reduce vehicle trips; engine idling and refueling; the use of gasoline-powered equipment; working with paints and solvents; and burning wood.

Read more about Minnesota's air quality from the MPCA, including tips on how you can help reduce air pollution. For health-related concerns, contact UST Health Services.