In most places, the quality of air in America is better than ever.
As China remains blanketed by an ever-thickening haze, we in the United States can be grateful of one thing: The air is getting cleaner in most parts. The American Lung Association reported in its State of the Air 2013 that 18 cities have lower dust pollution compared to previous years, while 16 had their lowest figures ever.
Nevertheless, the improvement is not that widespread. About 25 million Americans live in conditions of harmful levels of ozone and particle pollution. Around 131 million people (42%) live with either type of unhealthful environment. California’s busy and highly-populated metros rank badly in the rankings, consistently topping the five most-polluted metros by ozone, year-round and short-term particulate pollution. Bakersfield, the highest for particulates among 277 metros, fares worst of all although it has already improved.
In general, 119 counties have levels of ozone that affect the health of citizens with "aggravated asthma, difficulty breathing, cardiovascular harm and lower birth weight". Particulate levels in 58 counties are such that they "increase risks of heart attacks, strokes and emergency room visits for asthma and cardiovascular disease".
Cities, such as Salt Lake City and Fairbanks, Alaska, experience more frequent short-term spikes in pollution. Out of 25 cities that had the worst short-term problems, 14 recorded more poor days than in previous reports of the "State of the Air". According to the report, some cities experienced higher pollution arising from increased burning of wood and other fuels for heating during winter, especially with the use of highly-polluting indoor wood-stoves or outdoor wood-boilers.
Of the cleanest cities, New Mexico proudly ranks third and fifth for least particulates (Santa Fe and Farmington), Wyoming has another (Cheyenne), then Prescott, Arizona, and St. George, Utah. To help you determine your city’s ranking, the Lung Association website provides a friendly search function using the zip code.
"State of the Air" utilizes data gathered by the E.P.A. from 2009 to 2011. Its main objective is to promote continued enforcement of the Clean Air Act. Since 1970 when the Act was first amended, population and energy consumption has increased by about 50% while gross domestic product rose 212%, the report shows. Since then, emissions of the six most common pollutants have decreased by 68%. China, on the other hand, can only dream of achieving such a growth-to-pollution ratio.