SAINT PAUL, MN – Friday, State Rep. Fue Lee (DFL – Minneapolis) joined other Minnesota DFL lawmakers to submit official comments on how settlement funds from the pollution lawsuit against Volkswagen should be used. The legislators signed a joint letter that has been submitted as part of the comments in the Beneficiary Mitigation Plan being drafted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (PCA) to address excess emission of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from Volkswagen diesel-burning vehicles.
“The Volkswagen settlement money must address environmental justice issues facing members of our community and focus on improved air quality and health outcomes for vulnerable populations,” said Rep. Lee. “Because of where we live, in North Minneapolis, we face significant health challenges that are different than in other parts of the state, and that is largely the result of air pollution in our environment. We have the facts to back it up, and these resources can help do something to remedy future pollution and harm before it happens.”
Pollution Control Agency data indicate that the highest air pollution health risks are present throughout both Hennepin and Ramsey counties, where pollution concentrations are at least 10 times higher than health benchmarks. Significant risks also exist in the cities of Winona, Rochester, Owatonna, Mankato, St. Cloud, Moorhead, Duluth, Virginia and Hibbing.
The legislators urged PCA officials to “allocate these funds wisely, effectively and fairly by maximizing the benefits that will result from emissions reductions”. They also placed special emphasis on the emission reduction efforts maintaining focus on populations that are suffering the most severe effects of the pollution.
Studies conducted by PCA in 2015 show that the groups most affected by air pollution are people of color, elderly residents, children with uncontrolled asthma, and people living in poverty. Their letter stated, “Clearly, reducing NOx levels in these areas containing a high proportion of what the study terms “vulnerable populations” will produce a higher level of health benefits than equivalent reductions achieved in other parts of the state.”
A residual benefit to reduced emissions would be the significant economic savings in health-related costs. The PCA estimates that annual costs related to PM2.5 and ozone pollution levels in the Twin Cities – taking into account mortality, hospital admissions, emergency room visits, work days lost, aggravated respiratory symptoms, and non-fatal heart attacks – amount to more than $18.2 billion.
NOx emissions affect human health by promoting the development of asthma, increasing susceptibility to respiratory infections, and lodging tiny airborne particulates (PM2.5) deep in the lungs, where they can cause chronic respiratory disease and impaired lung function. When NOx emissions combine with airborne volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight, ozone is created. Ozone inflames the lining of the lungs when inhaled and reduces the ability to ward off infection, and can cause asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis.
The letter signed by 35 DFL members of the House and Senate can be viewed here.