MPCA issues air quality alert for May 16

The alert is in effect from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, May 16. Smoke from Canadian wildfires is expected to create unhealthy conditions for sensitive groups, such as those with lung or heart disease.

Motorists drive through heavy smoke Tuesday, July 20, 2021, on a county road north of Brainerd. Smoke from Canadian wildfire mixed with the cool morning air to create hazy conditions in central Minnesota.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD โ€” The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued an air quality alert for fine particle pollution as smoke from Canadian wildfires pushes into central Minnesota.

This area includes Ely, International Falls, Roseau, Duluth, Brainerd, Moorhead, and the tribal nations of Grand Portage, Fond du Lac, Leech Lake, Red Lake, and Mille Lacs.

The alert, for all of northern Minnesota, is in effect from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, May 16.

The fine particle levels and the air quality Index is expected to reach the orange or unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as people with lung disease (including asthma), and heart disease. Children and older adults may experience health effects.

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The air quality index is color-coded. In the orange area, sensitive groups should avoid prolonged time outdoors. Air quality alerts are issued when the index 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 .


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

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.

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.

Whoโ€™s most at risk

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 (COPD),
  • 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 donโ€™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.


Traveling across North Long Lake in heavy smoke Tuesday, July 20, 2021, boaters head for the shore near Merrifield. The heavy smoke from Canadian wildfires created hazy conditions for anglers and boaters on Brainerd area lakes. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Wildfire smoke

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 National Weather Service reported a band of smoke from wildfires in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan is currently moving east across Ontario. A strong cold front is expected to dive south overnight and begin pulling this smoke south toward Minnesota. Sinking air behind the front is expected to bring this smoke to the surface. Smoke will cross the Canadian border into northern Minnesota around 4 a.m. Tuesday.

Northerly winds are expected to push the smoke as far south as Hinckley and Alexandria by Tuesday afternoon. Air quality should improve across northeast Minnesota Tuesday afternoon. Smoke may linger across northwest Minnesota through Tuesday.

People in the sensitive groups, children and older adults should limit prolonged or heavy exertion. Keep windows closed overnight to prevent smoke from getting indoors.

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, the weather service noted.

For information on current air quality conditions and to sign up for daily air quality forecasts and alert notifications by email, text message, phone, or the Minnesota Air mobile app, visit and for more information about health and air quality, go to .

The Mississippi River is turbulent as flood waters move downstream through the dam at Little Falls.
The Mississippi River is turbulent as flood waters move downstream Friday, May 12, 2023, through the dam at Little Falls.<br/>
Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch


Fire and flood update

Flood warnings remains in effect for the Mississippi River in Aitkin and Crow Wing counties. Minor flooding is reported in the city of Aitkin with flooding in the city park, over driveways in the Cedarbook area and minor farmland flooding in the Cedarbrook community. The river is expected to continue to fall this week. Monday, at 8:30 a.m., the river was at 13.7 feet.

Our newsroom occasionally reports stories under a byline of "staff." Often, the "staff" byline is used when rewriting basic news briefs that originate from official sources, such as a city press release about a road closure, and which require little or no reporting. At times, this byline is used when a news story includes numerous authors or when the story is formed by aggregating previously reported news from various sources. If outside sources are used, it is noted within the story.

Hi, I'm the Brainerd Dispatch. I started working a few days before Christmas in 1881 and became a daily paper two years later. I've gone through a lot of changes over the years, but what has never changed is my commitment to community and to local journalism. I've got an entire team of dedicated people who work night and day to make sure I go out every morning, whether in print, as an e-edition, via an app or with additional information at News, weather, sports โ€” videos, photos, podcasts and social media โ€” all covering stories from central Minnesota about your neighbors, your lakes, your communities, your challenges and your opportunities. It's all part of the effort to keep people connected and informed. And we couldn't do it without support.
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