This week, much of Minnesota is under an air quality alert.

The reason is ground level ozone levels are much higher than usual. It’s a byproduct of pollutants and can make air quality unhealthy for sensitive groups. Here’s what to know.

What is ground level ozone? How is it different from normal ozone?

Ozone is composed of three atoms of oxygen, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Those compounds, when found high in the atmosphere, are good. They protect us from harmful UV rays.

But ground-level ozone is made by a combination of pollutants. It’s created when oxides from nitrogen and volatile organic compounds react with each other. Those oxides of nitrogen come from things like car exhaust, chemical solvents and emissions from certain kinds of industry.

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What kind of effect can it have?

Those who have respiratory issues already can suffer the most from this kind of air, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said.

Anyone with breathing conditions like asthma, children, older adults, people exercising or working outdoors can all feel the aggravating effects of these high ozone levels.

In this case, some parts of the state will have air quality so bad it can be considered unhealthy for anyone.

Exposure to ozone can cause coughing or a scratchy throat, make deep breathing difficult and aggravate lung or breathing conditions.

There are also effects on the environment, especially plants and trees. According to the EPA, high levels of ground ozone can slow or reduce photosynthesis and increase risk of disease and harm from severe weather.

Pets can experience similar effects when exposed to high levels of ozone, according to the National Institutes of Health.

How long is this air quality alert supposed to last?

The MPCA set the air quality alert from Tuesday, June 20 through 9 p.m. on Thursday, June 22. The area under alert goes from the state’s southern border all the way north to just south of Bemidji. Most of that area is under an orange alert, meaning the air is unhealthy for sensitive groups.

A band under a red alert in the metro area outside of the Twin Cities reaches as far north as St. Cloud and all the way east to the Wisconsin border. Under that alert, the air is unhealthy for all groups.

State officials say the last time ozone reached the red air quality index was 11 years ago in June 2012.

You can monitor these conditions in real time on the MPCA’s air quality website.

What precautions should you take during these air quality alerts?

The Minnesota Department of Health said people should limit any physical activity or postpone it. 

They also advise people stay away from sources of pollution, like roads, fires and industry.

Finally, they say if you have a breathing condition, you should make sure to have an inhaler with you and should follow any asthma action plan.

The EPA says when ozone levels are high, people should reduce their use of electricity, cars, household or garden chemicals and fireplaces or wood stoves.

How can we reduce ground ozone?

AirNow, an air quality data source run by several federal and state agencies, says people can help to improve air quality locally by cutting down on using cars or trucks, and use other transportation options.

The organization also says people should use environmentally safe products in their homes and gardens whenever possible, including paints, ENERGY STAR appliances and household or garden chemicals.

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