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US metro areas with the worst air pollution


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US metro areas with the worst air pollution

Dark gray smoke billows out of factory stacks as the sun sets.

“The Crown” episode “Act of God” recreated for viewers the Great Smog of London, a catastrophic fog of polluted air that settled over the city in the winter of 1952. Sometimes called the Big Smoke, a dense cloud of coal-choked air turned day to night and killed thousands. An almost identical event had already occurred in 1948, in Donora, Pennsylvania. Home to the Donora Zinc Works, Donora was consumed by a dense smog filled with airborne pollutants released during zinc smelting. When the same unusual weather patterns that caused the disaster in Donora materialized in London, scientists knew what was coming but it was too late to act.

Following other tragedies in New York and the smoggiest day on record in Los Angeles, the U.S. government passed the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955—the predecessor of the Clean Air Acts. Nixon’s administration established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 with the mission of enforcing regulations, collaborating with other organizations and sponsors, and educating the public about the hazards of pollution. The EPA has been successful in improving air quality in places like Donora.

Burning fossil fuels is the primary cause of both air pollution and climate change. In 2022, wildfires in the West—most of which were human-caused—were also culprits in the most polluted areas. Stacker compiled a list of the metro areas with the worst air pollution in the U.S. using the 2022 American Lung Association’s State of the Air Report.

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#25 (tie). Augusta, Georgia

Augusta downtown skyline on the Savannah River.

– Annual particle pollution: #25 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
– High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas



Sean Pavone // Shutterstock

#25 (tie). Shreveport, Louisiana

Shreveport downtown skyline over the river.

– Annual particle pollution: #25 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
– High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas



Sean Pavone // Shutterstock

#24. St. Louis

St. Louis downtown cityscape with the arch and courthouse at dusk.

– Annual particle pollution: #24 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
– High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas



Sean Pavone // Shutterstock

#22 (tie). Chicago

Chicago cityscape over the river in the afternoon.

– Annual particle pollution: #22 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
– High ozone days: #16 most polluted metropolitan area



Sean Pavone // Shutterstock

#22 (tie). Houston

Downtown Houston city skyline.

– Annual particle pollution: #22 most polluted metropolitan area

– High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas

– High ozone days: #8 most polluted metropolitan area

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#21. Yakima, Washington

Downtown city center of Yakima.

– Annual particle pollution: #21 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: #9 most polluted metropolitan area
– High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas



Arbo.lifestyle // Wikimedia Commons

#18 (tie). McAllen, Texas

McAllen Convention Center at night.

– Annual particle pollution: #18 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
– High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas



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#18 (tie). Philadelphia

D.C. at dusk.

– Annual particle pollution: #18 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
– High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas



Sean Pavone // Shutterstock

#18 (tie). Eugene, Oregon

Eugene downtown cityscape and mountains in the afternoon.

– Annual particle pollution: #18 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: #15 most polluted metropolitan area
– High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas



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#16 (tie). Detroit

An upward shot of Detroit buildings.

– Annual particle pollution: #16 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
– High ozone days: #24 most polluted metropolitan area

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#16 (tie). Redding, California

Sacramento River in Redding.

– Annual particle pollution: #16 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: #5 most polluted metropolitan area
– High ozone days: #23 most polluted metropolitan area



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#15. Bend, Oregon

Aerial view of the Old Mill District in Bend.

– Annual particle pollution: #15 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
– High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas



ESB Professional // Shutterstock

#14. Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh daytime downtown scene over the Allegheny River.

– Annual particle pollution: #14 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: #22 most polluted metropolitan area
– High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas



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#13. Indianapolis

An Indianapolis riverwalk with buildings in the background.

– Annual particle pollution: #13 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
– High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas



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#12. Cincinnati

Cincinnati downtown in the evening.

– Annual particle pollution: #12 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
– High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas

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#11. Sacramento, California

High viewpoint of downtown Sacramento.

– Annual particle pollution: #11 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: #7 most polluted metropolitan area
– High ozone days: #9 most polluted metropolitan area



Cbl62 // Wikimedia Commons

#10. El Centro, California

Hotel in El Centro.

– Annual particle pollution: #10 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
– High ozone days: #15 most polluted metropolitan area



MARELBU // Wikimedia Commons

#9. Chico, California

Businesses in downtown Chico.

– Annual particle pollution: #9 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: #6 most polluted metropolitan area
– High ozone days: #20 most polluted metropolitan area



Dreamframer // Shutterstock

#8. Phoenix

Downtown Phoenix at dusk.

– Annual particle pollution: #8 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: #11 most polluted metropolitan area
– High ozone days: #5 most polluted metropolitan area



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#7. Fairbanks, Alaska

Snow-covered streets in Fairbanks with buildings in the background.

– Annual particle pollution: #7 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: #3 most polluted metropolitan area
– High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas

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#6. Medford, Oregon

Medford view from Roxy Ann.

– Annual particle pollution: #6 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: #21 most polluted metropolitan area
– High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas



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#5. Los Angeles

A smoggy Los Angeles in the distance.

– Annual particle pollution: #5 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: #8 most polluted metropolitan area
– High ozone days: #1 most polluted metropolitan area



Uladzik Kryhin // Shutterstock

#4. San Jose, California

Drone photo of sunset over downtown San Jose.

– Annual particle pollution: #4 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: #4 most polluted metropolitan area
– High ozone days: #13 most polluted metropolitan area

 



Matt Gush // Shutterstock

#2 (tie). Fresno, California

Chukchansi Park in downtown Fresno.

– Annual particle pollution: #2 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: #1 most polluted metropolitan area
– High ozone days: #4 most polluted metropolitan area



Jacob Boomsma // Shutterstock

#2 (tie). Visalia, California

Aerial of downtown Visalia during spring.

– Annual particle pollution: #2 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: #9 most polluted metropolitan area
– High ozone days: #3 most polluted metropolitan area

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#1. Bakersfield, California

A view of a suburban area of Bakersfield from a distance.

– Annual particle pollution: #1 most polluted metropolitan area
– High 24-hour particle pollution days: #2 most polluted metropolitan area
– High ozone days: #2 most polluted metropolitan area


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