Canadian Blaze Leads to Minnesota Haze

The hazy skies we’ve had lately offer a teachable moment to talk about air quality. By now, you likely know what is causing our multi-day air quality alerts in varying parts of the state – smoke and particles from the Canadian wildfires.

Particle pollution, also called particulate matter (PM), is sometimes a bit easier to understand than other types of air pollution. Like the name reveals, PM is made up of tiny particles. If enough of it accumulates, it is visible to the naked eye causing a hazy film over city skylines, or making the sun so dim you almost can look right at it.

In another day or two, the grey skies will become clear again. This haze will pass with the wind or new weather systems, but we can't let the conversations about air quality go away with it. While wildfire smoke is an increasing problem, it is actually exhaust from vehicles that is the largest source of air pollution in our state. Both on- and off-road vehicles emit pollutants into our air.  Because we often cannot see this form of pollution, many people are unaware it exists, or are unconcerned with the health risks it poses.

We all know ways to reduce this tailpipe pollution: walking, biking, or carpooling to name a few. But most of us have to drive at some point, either to get children to activities or for a long commute to work. Yet, is there still a way you can reduce your emissions? The answer is yes – if you have a vehicle that can run on E85. Many cars on Minnesota roads – nearly 400,000 – are flex fuel vehicles, which can use either E85 or gasoline. Because flex fuel capability was standard on many vehicle makes and models, you may not even know if the vehicle in your garage is one of them. If you drive a flex fuel vehicle, using E85 can reduce tailpipe emissions from 20-50 percent compared to using regular gasoline.

During one of our air quality alerts, maybe you’ve even seen a MNDOT highway sign suggesting specific times to fuel your vehicle or to avoid fueling altogether. Why is that? Because those same gaseous fumes and vapors we all smell when fueling up also contribute to air pollution. On a hot, still day, these vapors can form ozone (aka smog). Just like the reduction in tailpipe emissions, using E85 instead of gasoline in your flex fuel vehicle generates far fewer of these evaporative emissions.

There may not be much you can do right now about the wildfire smoke, but there is something you can do today to help our air quality: choose to fuel your FFV with E85!

Find your region's air quality forecast and sign up for air quality alerts.

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