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Air Pollution: Check to See What Grade Your County Received, and the Cleanest & Dirtiest Air in America

Overall, Americans are breathing easier than they did in 2005, but over 150 million of us are still exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution, according to the American Lung Association's State of the Air 2006 report.

Want to live where the air is clean? See the top 25 U.S. metropolitan areas with the cleanest air year-round.

"Our report shows real improvement in the air quality in much of the nation. We're seeing the benefits of cleaning up dirty power plants with healthier air and a better quality of life. But that doesn't mean it's clean enough, and we've still got a lot of work to do," said John L. Kirkwood, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association.

As Kirkwood said, the Lung Association credits air quality improvements to the federal efforts that have been made to control pollution from power plants. However, they are urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help reduce pollution from marine and locomotive sources.

Who's at Risk From Air Pollution?

Air pollution can harm the health of just about anyone. It is so serious that about 4 percent of deaths in the United States can be attributed to air pollution, according to the Environmental Science Engineering Program at the Harvard School of Public Health. Further, it's estimated that those living in the most polluted cities have their life spans shortened by one to two years, according to research by the American Cancer Society and Harvard University.

How's the Air You're Breathing?

Check out the American Lung Association's interactive map to find out how your city's air ranked. Is it in the 25 best or worst, or somewhere in between?

Find Out if You're Breathing Polluted Air Now!

What types of health effects can be expected? Everything from eye, throat and lung irritation to lung cancer and chronic respiratory diseases. Other health effects of air pollution include:

  • Cough
  • Chest tightness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Asthma attacks
  • Increased upper respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia
  • Heart disease
  • Respiratory problems
  • Exacerbated allergies
  • Adverse neurological, reproductive and developmental effects
  • Genetic abnormalities in newborns

The American Lung Association also pointed out that certain groups are especially at risk from polluted air. These include:

  • People with asthma
  • Adults over 65
  • Children under 18
  • People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD, or chronic bronchitis and emphysema)
  • People with heart disease
  • People with diabetes

The 25 Metropolitan Areas With the Dirtiest Air

The State of the Air report ranks cities and counties according to how much particle pollution (soot) and ozone (smog) they contain. Said the Lung Association, these two pollutants still represent "persistent threats against large parts of the United States."

Along with the rankings, each county also receives a report card based on their high ozone days and 24-hour particle pollution. Chicago's Cook County, IL, for example, earned an "F." You can find out your county's grade using the American Lung Association's interactive map.

Here are the 25 metropolitan areas that ranked the worst (areas with the same number were tied) in year-round particle pollution.

  1. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
  2. Bakersfield, Calif.
  3. Pittsburgh-New Castle, Pa.
  4. Visalia-Porterville, Calif.
  5. Fresno-Madera, Calif.
  6. Detroit-Warren-Flint, Mich.
  7. Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.
  8. Cleveland-Akron-Elyria, Ohio
  9. Birmingham-Hoover-Cullman, Ala.
  10. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Gainesville, Ga.-Ala.
  11. Chicago-Naperville-Michigan City, Ill.-Ind.-Wis.
  12. Weirton-Steubenville, W.Va.-Ohio
  13. York-Hanover-Gettysburg, Pa.
  14. St. Louis-St. Charles-Farmington, Mo.-Ill.
  15. Cincinnati-Middletown-Wilmington, Ohio-Ky.-Ind.
  16. New York-Newark-Bridgeport, N.Y.-N.J.-Conn.-Pa.
  17. Lancaster, Pa.
  18. Merced, Calif.
  19. Canton-Massillon, Ohio
  20. Charleston, W.Va.
  21. Washington-Baltimore-Northern Virginia, D.C.-Md.-Va.-W.Va.
  22. Reading, Pa.
  23. Hagerstown-Martinsburg, Md.-W.Va.
  24. Indianapolis-Anderson-Columbus, Ind.
  25. Louisville-Elizabethtown-Scottsburg, Ky.-Ind.

Want to Breathe Easy? You May Want to Live Here

These 25 areas have the least amount of year-round particle pollution in the country.

  1. Cheyenne, Wyo.
  2. Santa Fe-Espanola, N.M.
  3. Honolulu
  4. Great Falls, Mont.
  5. Tucson, Ariz.
  6. Anchorage, Alaska
  7. Farmington, N.M.
  8. Bismark, N.D.
  9. Albuquerque, N.M.
  10. Rapid City, S.D.
  11. Pueblo, Colo.
  12. Fort Collins-Loveland, Colo.
  13. Fargo-Wahpeton, N.D.-Minn.
  14. Duluth, Minn.-Wis.
  15. Salinas, Calif.
  16. Midland-Odessa, Texas
  17. Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Fla.
  18. Colorado Springs, Colo.
  19. Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla.
  20. Albany-Corvallis-Lebanon, Ore.
  21. Reno-Sparks, Nev.
  22. Redding, Calif.
  23. Port St. Lucie-Fort Pierce, Fla.
  24. Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta, Calif.
  25. San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, Calif.

Protect Yourself and Your Family From Air Pollution

While the only way to avoid air pollution entirely is to move to a pristine location, the following tips will help to reduce the amount of pollution you're exposed to, no matter where you live.

  1. Keep Dirt and Dust Out of Your Home. A few high-quality mats, like the Waterhog Grand Premier Mats, placed strategically around your home (such as in doorways and other highly trafficked areas), will go a long way toward reducing the amount of dirt and dust in your home in the first place. Once inside, that dirt gets circulated into the air and you breathe it in.

  2. Avoid high levels of smog and pollution. These are typically highest during the midday and afternoon. If you're in a high-risk group, don't go outside when ozone levels are high.

  3. Exercise when the air is cleaner. When we exercise (or work strenuously), we draw air more deeply into our lungs, and therefore risk more damage from air pollution. To protect yourself and get the numerous health benefits of exercise, avoid exercising near congested streets and during rush-hour traffic, and try to work out early in the morning or evening instead.

Recommended Reading

26 Simple & Smart Steps to Prevent Allergy Flare-Ups

How to (and How NOT to) Sneeze and Blow Your Nose


American Lung Association: State of the Air 2006

WebMD April 27, 2006

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