Air Quality

Climate change affects air quality and exposure to air pollutants in many ways. Specific air pollutants that are likely to be increased by climate change and result in negative health impacts include particulate matter, ozone, and pollen and mold.

image of smokestack

Particulate Matter

Particulate matter comes from a number of sources including cars, trucks, construction equipment, coal-fired power plants, wood burning, vegetation, and livestock. Acute exposure can result in short-term impairment of lung function and death. Long term exposure can result in serious cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cancers, and death.

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Ozone

Ozone is formed by a chemical reaction between volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxide in the presence of heat and sunlight. Increase in temperatures especially in summer months will increase the formation of ozone. Exposure to ozone can make existing health conditions such as asthma and allergies worse, and can decrease lung function, cause new-onset asthma, and lead to death.

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Pollen & Mold

Climate change is lengthening the growing season for allergenic plants, increasing production of pollen and increasing the potency of the pollen. This may impact the approximately 25 million people in the U.S. who already suffer from hay fever (allergic rhinitis) and potentially increase the number of allergy sufferers. The current health care costs for treatment of hay fever reach over 11 billion dollars annually.

Mold growth also is enhanced by climate change from increasing temperatures and precipitation. Mold can cause coughing, wheezing, nasal and throat irritation, and can have greater impact on persons with asthma or weakened immune systems.

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Populations at Risk

image of person using an inhaler

Some persons are more affected by poor air quality because of increased exposure to pollutants. Individuals who work outdoors may be exposed to outdoor air pollutants for long periods of time, and truck drivers can experience long-term exposure to exhaust emissions. These are examples of chronic exposure. Athletes also may be at increased risk because their rapid breathing allows them to take in more air during outdoor activity and therefore more pollutants. This is an example of acute exposure.

Some persons are more affected by poor air quality because of increased sensitivity. Young children and the elderly are especially sensitive to changes in air quality. Others who may have an increased sensitivity include individuals with an existing health condition, such as:

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Air Quality Training Module

cover of air module

MDH developed the Air Quality, Climate Change and Public Health Training Module as a part of a series of Climate and Health trainings. This training module provides an overview of the observed climate changes in Minnesota, the public health issues related to climate change and air quality, and public health strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change to reduce the health impacts. This module can be used as an educational tool for interested persons or as a “train the trainer” module for local public health departments. The training has been fully scripted for that purpose.

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Additional Air Quality and Health Resources

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Updated Monday, 28-Oct-2013 08:44:53 CDT