Thick smoke from Canadian wildfires is creating poor air quality conditions across most of Minnesota today, Thursday, July 29, with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency categorizing the majority of the state’s air quality as “Unhealthy” or “Very Unhealthy” as of 5 p.m.

Air quality monitors have recorded some of the state’s highest particulate readings on record today, according to a report by MPR News (most MPCA monitors came online in 2000).

Levels were at their highest in the western half of Minnesota, including in Detroit Lakes, which was sitting solidly within the “Very Unhealthy” range, meaning the risk of health effects was increased for everyone and not just those with certain health issues.

This picture, taken Thursday afternoon, July 29, shows the extent of the smoky haze in the air around Detroit Lakes. Barely visible in the upper right corner of the picture is the city's large water tower; on a normal day, it would be easily seen. (Nathan Bowe / Tribune)
This picture, taken Thursday afternoon, July 29, shows the extent of the smoky haze in the air around Detroit Lakes. Barely visible in the upper right corner of the picture is the city's large water tower; on a normal day, it would be easily seen. (Nathan Bowe / Tribune)

Matt Taraldsen, an MPCA air quality meteorologist based in St. Paul, said there was a sharp uptick in particulates in the Detroit Lakes area Thursday afternoon. Things were expected to head back down into the more moderate ranges for at least part of Friday, but it was looking like there might be another uptick Saturday, back into that “Very Unhealthy” range.

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“We’re not certain yet,” he said about Saturday's conditions, “but that’s how the data looks today.”

As of early Thursday evening, the MPCA’s air quality alert, effective for nearly all of Minnesota, was set to expire at 3 p.m. on Friday. But Taraldsen said it would be extended if another uptick occurs.

It’s unfortunate timing for Detroit Lakes, where the Becker County Fair and the city’s Sesquicentennial celebration are currently taking place -- both big community events that draw crowds outdoors.

Taraldsen said there aren’t any official protocols in place that require people to stay indoors, or events to be canceled, in the event of unhealthy air conditions. The MPCA issues alerts to inform people of the risks, and then it’s up to each individual to determine how best to respond.

“At the end of the day, we tell people, ‘Listen to your body,’” he said. “You can start to feel the impacts of air pollution when it starts to get this concentrated. If you can feel it in your lungs… you want to take it easy.”

Kiley Karger of Frazee walks down Washington Avenue in Detroit Lakes on the smoggy Thursday afternoon, July 29. (Nathan Bowe / Tribune)
Kiley Karger of Frazee walks down Washington Avenue in Detroit Lakes on the smoggy Thursday afternoon, July 29. (Nathan Bowe / Tribune)

Poor air quality can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, aggravate asthma and other respiratory conditions, and affect the heart and cardiovascular system. People may notice symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and fatigue.

“At the ‘Very Unhealthy’ level, you can be outside, you just have to be very cautious of what your body’s telling you,” Taraldsen said. “You don’t want to go out there and do exercise.”

For those who want to protect themselves outdoors, Taraldsen said an N95 respirator face mask will help; other, more standard cloth and disposable face masks will not.

Visit the MPCA’s website for current information about air quality, and download their mobile air quality app, Minnesota Air, for real-time alerts.