American Cities with the Cleanest (and Most Polluted) Air

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The American Lung Association is out with its 2013 “State of the Air” report. It has issued the document for 14 years. In general, the news from the report is good, but for some cities air pollution remains a major problem.

On a grand scale, this was the American Lung Association’s conclusion:

[A]ir quality nationwide continues the long-term trend to much healthier air. The strongest progress came in lower levels of year-round particle pollution across much of the nation. Still, many cities that ranked among the most polluted had more unhealthy days of high ozone and short-term particle pollution than in the 2012 report.

The report sets its conclusions, to some extent, on local data:

The report grades counties and ranks cities and counties based on their scores for ozone, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution levels.

Most of the “cleanest cities” are in sparsely populated areas, where there are not likely to be a lot of cars and factories. Among the 10 cleanest, based on “year-round particle pollution” were:

1. Cheyenne, Wyo.
2. St. George, Utah
2. Santa Fe-Espanola, N.M.
4. Prescott, Ariz.
5. Farmington, N.M.
6. Pocatello, Idaho
7. Redding, Calif.
8. Tucson, Ariz.
9. Flagstaff, Ariz.
9. Rapid City, S.D.
9. Colorado Springs, Colo.
9. Albuquerque, N.M.
13. Salinas, Calif.

Most of these cities ranked well for the other two measures — “short-term particle pollution” and “ozone air pollution.” The cities did not do well by design, but rather by location.

The “most polluted cities” were in mostly in California:

1. Bakersfield-Delano, Calif.
1. Merced, Calif.
3. Fresno-Madera, Calif.
4. Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.
4. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
6. Modesto, Calif.
7. Visalia-Porterville, Calif.
8. Pittsburgh-New Castle, Pa.
9. El Centro, Calif.
10. Cincinnati-Middletown-Wilmington, Ohio-Ky.-Ind.

A look at the map shows that most of these cities are clustered inland from Los Angeles. In other words, they are concentrated in a single area where air pollution is a blight for the people who live there, as well as a risk to health:

Dangerous levels of ozone or particle pollution can cause wheezing and coughing, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and premature death.

Anyone who cares about these health problems ought to stay out of California.

Methodology: The data on air quality throughout the United States were obtained from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality System (AQS).