Captain Obvious is here to tell you that where you live makes a big difference in how clean the air you breathe is. This is nothing new; a variety of topographical and industrial factors affect how clean or not an area’s air is. But what exactly contributes to clean or polluted air is a continual source of fascination to me.
I ran across an article on Quartz that discusses the six cities in the U.S. with the cleanest air, according to the recently-released State of the Air (SOTA) report by the American Lung Association. The release of this yearly report seems to touch off articles of this sort, and last year’s report moved me to write a previous post.
Here’s the list of the six cleanest metros in the USA, in alphabetical order:
- Burlington-South Burlington, Vermont
- Cape Coral-Fort Myers-Naples, Florida
- Elmira-Corning, New York
- Honolulu, Hawaii
- Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Florida
- Wilmington, North Carolina
You should read the article (and poke around the SOTA website) yourself, but here’s some of my thoughts from the article, and the research rabbit hole it led me down.
- The use of “city” might be misleading, depending on your definition of that word. I live in a tiny town in the rural Midwest, so all of them qualify for city status in my book. Cape Coral-Fort Myers-Naples was the largest of the six, at 1,059,287 people; Elmira-Corning was the smallest with 184,702. However, if you live in LA or NYC, these are all tiny towns.
- That being said, population size has nothing to do with your city’s clean air rating, because many smaller cities, like Fairbanks, AK have severe air quality problems.
- At first, it seemed that living on or near the coast apparently is good for the air quality. Most of these cities are near large bodies of water. But being coastal brings no guarantees, as 8 of the 10 most polluted areas are in California.
- Areas were ranked on particulate matter (PM) concentration and ozone levels in the air. All six of the above metro areas experienced no days where PM or ozone levels were too high between 2013 and 2015.
- There’s a whole lotta Florida on ‘clean air towns’ lists. In addition to the two above, the article provides a list of 11 other towns which are noted for clean air, and 4 of those are in Florida, too.
- The reasons why an area is or isn’t polluted are probably the most fascinating aspect of all of this for me. The previously-mentioned Fairbanks is a good example. I would have thought being in the far north and surrounded by wilderness areas, it would have clean air. It doesn’t, for a surprising reason: wood smoke from heating stoves.
- On the American Lung Association’s State of the Air site, you can view the air quality numbers for your neighborhood. That is, if your area has an air quality monitoring station; my area, unsurprisingly, does not.
What does it all mean for you and I, who care about clean air for everyone? The points above highlight the complexity of the problem. I’ve never considered wood-burning stoves to be a factor in air pollution, but they are in some areas. For others, it’s transportation-sourced pollutants or particulate from factories. None of these are easy to solve: people must have heat, be able to drive vehicles, and have manufacturing facilities. Perhaps the lesson is that every step that every one of us takes to lower our personal contribution to polluted air, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction. It may well be that the solution to the complex problem of dirty air can be found in the simplest of concepts: each of us making the right choices in small matters, every day.