ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has issued an air quality alert for all of Minnesota, set to take effect at midnight on Thursday, Aug. 17, and runs until 11 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 18.

Heavy ground-level smoke from wildfires in the Northwest Territories of Canada is moving south across central Canada and towards Minn. on Wednesday.

A strong cold front will bring this smoke across the entire state on Thursday. Smoke will reach the border around midnight on Thursday, the Twin Cities around noon, and southern Minn. by 3 p.m. This smoke will be heavy and air quality may reach the Red (Unhealthy) AQI category for much of eastern Minn.

Smoke will linger across the eastern half of the state on Friday and fine particle levels will continue to be high for most of the day. Winds will become southerly Friday afternoon and smoke will begin to retreat away from Minn. and disperse. Air quality should improve below alert levels by late Friday.

Fine particle levels are expected to reach the red air quality index category, a level considered unhealthy for everyone, across northeast and east central Minnesota. In the red area, sensitive groups should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion and limit time spent outdoors. Everyone should limit prolonged or heavy exertion and time spent outdoors.

Fine particle levels are expected to reach the orange air quality index (AQI) category, a level considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, across western and southern Minnesota. This area includes Alexandria, Albert Lea, Marshall, Worthington, Rochester, Winona, Ortonville, Mankato, East Grand Forks, Moorhead, and the tribal nation of Upper Sioux. In the orange area, sensitive groups should limit prolonged or heavy exertion and time spent outdoors.

Air moves long distances and carries pollutants. During air quality alerts due to wildfires, the air is mixed with harmful smoke. Wildfire smoke spreads or lingers depending on the size of the fires, the wind, and the weather.

The air quality index (AQI) is color-coded. Air quality alerts are issued when the AQI is forecast to reach an unhealthy level, which includes forecasts in the orange, red, purple, and maroon categories. For a full description of each air quality category, visit

Orange air quality: Unhealthy for sensitive groups

Sights and smells: In areas where air quality is in the orange AQI category due to wildfires, the sky may look hazy and residents may smell smoke even when wildfires are far away.

Health effects: This air is unhealthy for sensitive groups and pollution may aggravate heart and lung disease as well as cardiovascular and respiratory conditions. Symptoms may include chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and fatigue.

What to do: People in sensitive groups are encouraged to reduce outdoor physical activities, take more breaks, or do less intense activities to reduce their exposure. People with asthma should follow their asthma action plan and keep their rescue inhaler nearby.

Poor air quality impacts health. Fine particle pollution from wildfire smoke can irritate eyes, nose, and throat, and cause coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, dizziness, or fatigue. Smoke particles are small enough that they can be breathed deeply into lungs and enter the bloodstream. This can lead to illnesses such as bronchitis or aggravate existing chronic heart and lung diseases, triggering heart palpitations, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and strokes.

Certain groups experience health effects from unhealthy air quality sooner than others, either because they are more sensitive to fine particle pollution or because they are exposed to larger amounts of it.

Sensitive groups include:

  • People who have asthma or other breathing conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • People who have heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes.
  • Pregnant people.
  • Children and older adults.

People with increased exposure include:

  • People of all ages who do longer or more vigorous physical activity outdoors.
  • People who work outdoors, especially workers who do heavy manual labor.
  • People who exercise or play sports outdoors, including children.
  • People who don’t have air conditioning and need to keep windows open to stay cool.
  • People in housing not tight enough to keep unhealthy air out, or who do not have permanent shelter.

Anyone experiencing health effects related to poor air quality should contact their health care provider. Those with severe symptoms, chest pain, trouble breathing, or who fear they may be experiencing a heart attack or stroke should call 911 immediately.

Reduce or eliminate activities that contribute to air pollution, such as outdoor burning, and use of residential wood burning devices. Reduce vehicle trips and vehicle idling as much as possible.

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