Which cities have the most polluted air in America?

The 2014 'State of the Air' report suggests that, despite progress, California metro areas continue to have the worst air quality in the US.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Drivers entering Sacramento on eastbound Highway 50 to come to a near stand still as traffic backs up in West Sacramento, Calif., April 22, 2014. A new report, released Wednesday, gives big California metro areas poor grades for their air quality.

Los Angeles might be a haven for organic juices, but residents of the city, as well as most Californians living in major metropolitan areas, are drinking up some polluted air, according to the American Lung Association’s most recent “State of the Air” report.

The annual report, released Wednesday, once again gives Los Angeles and other big California metro area poor grades for their air quality. But Golden State residents aren’t alone: almost half of US residents, or about 148 million people, live in counties with air so polluted it poses a health risk, according to the ALA.

The annual report, which is based on data from 2010 to 2012, grades air quality on an “A” to “F” scale and divides pollution into two varieties: ozone pollution, also known as smog; and particle pollution, also known as soot.

The report comes a day after the US Supreme Court voted to uphold the right of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate air pollution that drifts across state borders.

The ALA’s new report suggests that US air quality has improved since 1970, when the Clean Air Act was passed. But progress in the metro areas with the worst air pollution has been checkered, according to the ALA.

For example, 22 of the 25 metro areas with the biggest ozone pollution problems experienced more days when ozone levels exceeded health standards than they did in the previous ALA survey, which covered the years from 2009 to 2011. Those included Los Angeles, Washington, New York, and Chicago. The hot summers of 2010 and 2012 likely contributed to the heightened ozone levels, which could herald increasing ozone problems if climate change continues at its current rate.

Meanwhile, progress on soot seems more clear-cut. Eighteen of the 25 metro areas with the worst particle pollution levels reached their lowest levels in the 15 years that the ALA has collected data. Los Angeles, for one, has halved particle pollution, and Pittsburgh and Cleveland have also seen progress. The survey credited emissions reductions from coal power plants and a gradual transition to cleaner diesel fuels.

Los Angeles is notable for its progress in both categories of pollution (its ozone levels have been cut by a third during the past 15 years). But it remains the most ozone-polluted metro area in the US, and it comes in third for particle pollution.

Indeed, California metro areas take the top five spots on both “worst” lists. Other polluted metro areas in the state include: Fresno-Madera (the worst offender for annual particle pollution), Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, and Bakersfield.

Appearing at the top end of the "clean" lists are Bangor (Maine), Bismarck (N.D.), Cape Coral-Fort Myers (Fla.), and Salinas (Calif.). That means that those cities saw no days during which either air pollutant reached unhealthful levels, the ALA said. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Which cities have the most polluted air in America?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today