America’s Most and Least Polluted Cities

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The American Lung Association has come out with its 2017 “State of the Air” report. The research findings are mixed. Much of the air across the nation has gotten safer to breath. However, one measure, “particle pollution,” a measure of dangerous air quality, has risen. Several cities show how wide the distribution of the problem is, both in terms of the worst air and air quality that is at the best end of the spectrum.

The study finds that 125 million Americans lived in counties with air pollution with unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution over the period from 2013 to 2015. That is 38.9% of the population. Unhealthy levels mean, at the extreme, those that can cause premature death or serious illness.

The technical descriptions of the two primary measures of air pollution are 1) ozone pollution and 1) particle pollution. Particle pollution is broken into two categories, one year round and the other short term. Particle pollution is from “microscopic particles lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, cause lung cancer and shorten life.” The short-term measure is taken daily and the long-term one annually. Ozone pollution is based on measures that are part of the Clean Air Act and comes primarily from cars, trucks and plants.

Harold P. Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association, lauded progress in air pollution made primarily due to the Clean Air Act, but added:

Even with the ongoing improvements, too many people in the United States live where the air is unhealthy for them to breathe. This is simply unacceptable. Everyone has a fundamental right to breathe healthy air. Our nation’s leaders must do more to protect the health of all Americans.

These are the top and bottom 10 cities measures by ozone, short-term particle pollution and year-round particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association:

Top 10 U.S. Cities Most Polluted by Short-Term Particle Pollution:

  1. Bakersfield, Calif
  2. Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, Calif.
  3. Fresno-Madera, Calif.
  4. Modesto-Merced, Calif.
  5. Fairbanks, Ala.
  6. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, Calif.
  7. Salt Lake City-Provo-Orem, Utah
  8. Logan, Utah-Idaho
  9. Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif.
  10. Reno-Carson City-Fernley, Nev.

Top 10 U.S. Cities Most Polluted by Year-Round Particle Pollution (Annual PM2.5):

  1. Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, Calif.
  2. Bakersfield, Calif.
  3. Fresno-Madera, Calif.
  4. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, Calif.
  5. Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif.
  6. Modesto-Merced, Calif.
  7. El Centro, Calif.
  8. Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton, Pa.-Ohio-W.Va.
  9. Cleveland-Akron-Canton, Ohio
  10. San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, Calif.

Top 10 Most Ozone-Polluted Cities:

  1. Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif.
  2. Bakersfield, Calif.
  3. Fresno-Madera, Calif.
  4. Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, Calif.
  5. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz.
  6. Modesto-Merced, Calif.
  7. San Diego-Carlsbad, Calif.
  8. Sacramento-Roseville, Calif.
  9. New York-Newark, N.Y.–N.J.-Conn.-Pa.
  10. Las Vegas-Henderson, Nev.-Ariz.

Unfortunately, just six cities had no days when ozone or particle pollution reached unhealthy levels and had the lowest year-round levels of particle pollution as well.

Top Cleanest U.S. Cities (listed in alphabetical order)

  • Burlington-South Burlington, Vt.
  • Cape Coral-Fort Myers-Naples, Fla.
  • Elmira-Corning, N.Y.
  • Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Fla.
  • Wilmington, N.C.