Best, worst cities for air quality: California ranks among worst, East Coast is cleaner

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  • California cities ranked the worst in three categories for air quality.
  • Numerous cities were tied for best air quality categories, mostly in the East.
  • Cheyenne, Wyoming, was rated the top city for year-round air quality.

A report released by the American Lung Association on Thursday revealed millions of Americans are breathing unhealthy levels of air pollution across the country.

The State of the Air 2022 report, based on data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 2018-to-2020 also revealed which cities had the best and worst air quality.

The rankings are based on three categories, including ozone air pollution, year-round particle pollution and short-term exposure particle pollution over 24 hours. 

The report listed climate-change-driven wildfires as one of the biggest contributors for the rise in air particle pollution, a factor reflected in the rankings with many western cities plagued by historic wildfires in recent years.

Most of the cities with the cleanest air quality are from the East Coast. 

Here are are the best and worst cities for air quality, according to the American Lung Association: 

‘Very unhealthy’: US air quality remains ‘hazardous’ for millions of Americans, new report says

Worldwide: These countries have the most polluted air in the world, new report says

Worst air in the United States 

It isn’t West Coast best coast when it comes to air.

California dominated the worst air rankings, with three of the state’s cities topping each of the worst air categories. The Los Angeles-Long Beach area had the worst air by ozone, Bakersfield had the worst year-round particle pollution and the Fresno-Madera-Hanford area had the worst air by short-term particle pollution.

The top 10 cities in each of the three categories were western states, with the most eastern city being Houston. Here are the worst air cities:

Worst air by ozone:

  1. Los Angeles-Long Beach, California 
  2. Bakersfield, California
  3. Visalia, California
  4. Fresno-Madera-Hanford, California
  5. Phoenix-Mesa, Arizona
  6. San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad, California 
  7. Denver-Aurora, Colorado
  8. Houston-The Woodlands, Texas
  9. Sacramento-Roseville, California
  10. Salt Lake City-Provo-Orem, Utah

Worst year-round particle pollution:

  1. Bakersfield, California
  2. Fresno-Madera-Hanford, California 
  3. Visalia, California 
  4. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, California
  5. Los Angeles-Long Beach, California
  6. Medford-Grants Pass, Oregon
  7. Fairbanks, Alaska
  8. Phoenix-Mesa, Arizona
  9. Chico, California
  10. El Centro, California 

Short-term particle pollution:

  1. Fresno-Madera-Hanford, California 
  2. Bakersfield, California
  3. Fairbanks, Alaska
  4. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, California 
  5. Redding-Red Bluff, California
  6. Chico, California
  7. Sacramento-Roseville, California
  8. Los Angeles-Long Beach, California
  9. Yakima, Washington and Visalia, California 

Best air in the United States 

While the Pacific states had the worst air, the East Coast and some Midwest cities are breathing better. 

However, Cheyenne, Wyoming, is an outlier from the West. The Wyoming capital ranked first in cleanest cities for year-round particle pollution, despite being roughly 95 miles away from Denver, which had the 7th-worst ozone air pollution. Casper, Wyoming, also made the top 10.

Another exclusion from the Pacific is Hawaii. Two areas – Honolulu and the Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina region – were also in the top five. 

Best cities in year-round particle pollution:

  1. Cheyenne, Wyoming
  2. Wilmington, North Carolina 
  3. Urban Honolulu, Hawaii
  4. Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, Hawaii
  5. Bangor, Maine
  6. Casper, Wyoming
  7. Bellingham, Washington
  8. Bismarck, North Dakota, Elmira-Corning, New York, Sioux Falls, South Dakota and St. George, Utah 

There were numerous cities tied for first in ozone air (64) and short-term particle pollution (80). Here are some of the biggest cities in each category:

Best cities for ozone air

  • Charlottesville, Virginia
  • Cheyenne, Wyoming
  • Eugene-Springfield, Oregon
  • Jacksonville-St. Marys-Palatka, Florida-Georgia
  • Lexington-Fayette-Richmond-Frankfort, Kentucky
  • Lincoln-Beatrice, Nebraska 
  • Shreveport-Bossier City-Minden, Louisiana
  • Urban Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Virginia Beach-Norfolk, Virginia-North Carolina

Best cities for short-term particle pollution

  • Boston-Worcester-Providence, Massachusetts-Rhode Island-New Hampshire-Connecticut 
  • Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
  • Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point, North Carolina
  • Hartford-East Hartford, Connecticut 
  • Knoxville-Morristown-Sevierville, Tennessee 
  • Milwaukee-Racine-Waukesha, Wisconsin 
  • Montgomery-Selma-Alexander City, Alabama
  • New Orleans-Metairie-Hammond, Louisiana-Mississippi
  • Richmond, Virginia

Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.