Monday, May 9, 2016

Air Advisory in State Take Two – What This Means When Working Outdoors

Last year we had a number of Air Quality Advisories in the state due to a number of wildfires in Canada and the wind shifting the smoke to our areas.  This year we are seeing much of the same type of issue in many parts of the state.  As such, we thought it would be beneficial to re-publish the information on Air Quality Advisories that we shared last year. Please take a moment to review the information and remember to stay informed on the air quality issues that may impact you or your workers.

We have all noticed the haze and gloomy air in the past week hanging around.  This haze was caused by over 180 fires blazing in British Columbia, Canada.

There are over 2 million acres of wildfires raging across Canada and into Alaska currently with no real end in sight.  The smoke from these fires has risen to over 20,000 feet which then allows the jet stream to act as a highway, transporting the smoke across the country. 

The state that has felt the largest impact is Minnesota, however there have been health advisories issued across the Western and Midwestern parts of the United States.  The reason that Minnesota is so heavily impacted is due to the East/Southeast direction of wind movement, which has put us directly in the line of “fire”, so to speak. 

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued a statewide Air Advisory on Monday, which indicated that the northern two-thirds of the state should take extra precautions due to the reduced air quality from the smoke infiltration. What does this mean?

  1. Exposure to the high level of fine particles has previously been linked with respiratory and cardiovascular health effects.  There is a risk of exacerbation with pre-existing health conditions, which can lead to chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, or fatigue.
  2. The level of fine particulate in the air on Monday was unhealthy for anyone.
  3. Those individuals that are sensitive to fine particles (pre-existing cardiovascular or respiratory disease, elderly, children, and individuals who are under heavy or extended exertion are advised to postpone or reduce vigorous activity and reduce exposure to air pollution (heavy duty vehicle exhaust, wood fires, candles)
  4. Those in the at risk or higher risk groups should check the Air Quality Index prior to vigorous activity being resumed.

As many of our Public Works and Parks Departments work the majority of their days outside participating in activities that require extended or heavy exertion, these employees are considered an “at risk population”.  As such, the MPCA does recommend limiting or avoiding those activities until the risk is reduced.

For current air quality conditions visit the Air Quality Index page


By: Tara Bursey, Loss Control Consultant


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