February 3, 2005

States See High Levels of Air Pollution

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Air pollution built to unhealthy levels around the upper Midwest, a wintertime rarity caused by the absence of strong wind, and problems were expected to continue Thursday for children and other sensitive groups.

Minnesota officials warned that air in the Twin Cities was unhealthy for anyone Wednesday, and Chicago and Columbus, Ohio, this week had their first-ever winter air alerts, warning of unhealthy conditions for people at risk.

Sunnier skies and increased wind were improving conditions in Minneapolis on Thursday, but air was expected to remain at levels unhealthy for children, the elderly and people with breathing problems from there to central Ohio. Those people were advised to avoid strenuous activities.

In Illinois, officials expected the air quality index in the Chicago area to be from 109 to 139, within the range considered unhealthy for sensitive groups. Air is considered unhealthy for everyone at 150 and above.

The region's pollution built up when a stagnant air mass over the region trapped fine particles near the ground this week. The particles come from sources such as car exhaust, factories and fireplaces. The air mass was expected to remain over the region for much of the week.

"Things that emit pollution are going to go out into the air and not really go anywhere," said Rick Hiltbrand, a National Weather Service forecaster in Chanhassen.

Martin Bernerd was back outside training for a half marathon along the Mississippi River in St. Paul on Wednesday after the area saw its worst air quality in 25 years.

"With the sun coming out, the air just looks better," Bernerd said.


On the Net:

Federal air-quality information: http://www.airnow.gov