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Report lists worst, best cities for air quality

Sixty percent of Americans live in areas with unhealthy air pollution levels, the American Lung Association said in a report released Wednesday.
Polluted Cities
Smog covers downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday. In the American Lung Association's 2009 "State of the Air" report, the Los Angeles, Long Beach and Riverside region remained the metropolitan area with the highest levels of ozone pollution as they have in each of the previous nine reports.Nick Ut / AP
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Sixty percent of Americans live in areas with unhealthy air pollution levels, despite a growing green movement and more stringent laws aimed at improving air quality, the American Lung Association said in a report released Wednesday that also listed the healthiest and unhealthiest cities across the U.S. in terms of air quality.

The public-health group ranked the pollution levels of U.S. cities and counties based on air quality measurements that state and local agencies reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency between 2005 and 2007.

Overall, the report found that air pollution at times reaches unhealthy levels in almost every major city and that 186.1 million people live in those areas. The number is much higher than last year's figure of about 125 million people because recent changes to the federal ozone standard mean more counties recognize unhealthy levels of pollution.

Health effects from air pollution include changes in lung function, coughing, heart attacks, lung cancer and premature death.

"Six out of 10 Americans right now as we speak live in areas where the air can be dirty enough to send people to the emergency room, dirty enough to shape how kids' lungs develop and even dirty enough to kill," said Janice Nolen, the association's assistant vice president on national policy and advocacy.

Cities including Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Baltimore have seen improvements in air quality over the last decade, the report said.

The rankings in the "State of the Air Report" were based on ozone pollution levels produced when heat and sunlight come into contact with pollutants from power plants, cars, refineries and other sources.

The lung association also studied short-term and year-round levels of particle pollution, which is made up of a mix of tiny solid and liquid particles in the air.

Below, in alphabetical order, are the cleanest U.S. cities for ozone air pollution (only nine made the list since they were the only ones where no monitored ozone air pollution was found in unhealthful ranges):

  • Billings, Mont.
  • Carson City, Nev.
  • Coeur d’Alene, Id.
  • Fargo-Wahpeton, N.D.-Minn.
  • Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Laredo, Texas
  • Lincoln, Neb.
  • Port St.Lucie-Sebastian-Vero Beach, Fla.
  • Sioux Falls, S.D.

Below are the top 25 cleanest U.S. cities for long-term particle pollution:

1 Cheyenne, Wyo.
2 Santa Fe-Espanola, N.M.
3 Honolulu, Hawaii
4 Great Falls, Mont.
4 Farmington, N.M.
6 Anchorage, Alaska
6 Tucson, Ariz.
8 Bismarck, N.D.
9 Flagstaff, Ariz.
9 Salinas, Calif.
11 Redding, Calif.
12 Fort Collins-Loveland, Colo.
13 Duluth, Minn.-Wis.
14 Colorado Springs, Colo.
14 Pueblo, Colo.
14 Fargo-Wahpeton, N.D.-Minn.
17 Albuquerque, N.M.
18 San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, Calif.
19 Midland-Odessa, Texas
20 Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Fla.
20 Boise City-Nampa, Idaho
20 Reno-Sparks-Fernley, Nev.
23 Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla.
24 Port St.Lucie-Sebastian-Vero Beach, Fla.
25 Billings, Mont.
25 Lincoln, Neb.

Below are people at risk in the 25 most ozone-polluted cities:

1 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
2 Bakersfield, Calif. 
3 Visalia-Porterville, Calif.
4 Fresno-Madera, Calif.
5 Houston-Baytown-Huntsville, Texas
6 Sacramento-Arden-Yuba City, Calif.-Nev.
7 Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas
8 Charlotte-Gastonia-Salisbury, N.C.-S.C.
9 Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz.
10 El Centro, Calif.
11 Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.
12 Las Vegas-Paradise-Pahrump, Nev.
13 San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, Calif.
14 Washington-Baltimore-Northern Virginia, D.C.-Md.-Va.-W.Va.
15 Cincinnati-Middletown-Wilmington, Ohio-Ky.-Ind.
16 Philadelphia-Camden-Vineland, Pa.-N.J.-Del.-Md.
17 St.Louis-St.Charles-Farmington, Mo.-Ill.
17 New York-Newark-Bridgeport, N.Y.-N.J.-Conn.-Pa.
19 Knoxville-Sevierville-La Follette, Tenn.
20 Birmingham-Hoover-Cullman, Ala. 
21 Baton Rouge-Pierre Part, La.
22 Kansas City-Overland Park-Kansas City, Mo.-Kan.
23 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Gainesville, Ga.-Ala.
24 Merced, Calif.
25 Memphis, Tenn.

Below are people at risk in 25 U.S. cities most polluted by year-round particle pollution:

1 Bakersfield, Calif.
2 Pittsburgh-New Castle, Pa.
3 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
4 Visalia-Porterville, Calif.
5 Birmingham-Hoover-Cullman, Ala.
6 Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.
7 Fresno-Madera, Calif.
8 Cincinnati-Middletown-Wilmington, Ohio-Ky.-Ind.
9 Detroit-Warren-Flint, Mich.
10 Cleveland-Akron-Elyria, Ohio
11 Charleston, W.Va.
11 Huntington-Ashland, W.Va.-Ky.-Ohio
11 Louisville-Jefferson County-Elizabethtown-Scottsburg, Ky.-Ind.
14 Macon-Warner Robins-Fort Valley, Ga.
14 St.Louis-St.Charles-Farmington, Mo.-Ill.
16 Weirton-Steubenville, WV-OH
17 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Gainesville, GA-AL
18 Indianapolis-Anderson-Columbus, Ind.
18 Rome, Ga.
20 Canton-Massillon, Ohio
20 York-Hanover-Gettysburg, Pa.
22 Lancaster, Pa.
22 New York-Newark-Bridgeport, N.Y.-N.J.-Conn.-Pa.
24 Hagerstown-Martinsburg, Md.-W.Va.
24 Houston-Baytown-Huntsville, Texas