11 Places With the Cleanest Air in America

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woman breathing in clean fresh air
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There’s something in the air — more in some places than in others, apparently.

In its 2023 State of the Air report, the American Lung Association identifies the cities in the United States with the cleanest and the most polluted air, using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

To reach its findings, the report analyzed cities based on measurements taken over a three-year period, from 2019 to 2021, and examined ground-level ozone air pollution, annual particle pollution and short-term spikes in particle pollution.

Along with the release of its report, the ALA pointed out some startling air quality facts:

  • Particle pollution can increase the risk of lung cancer.
  • More than 33% of Americans live where the air gets an “F” grade.
  • Pollution is linked to increased risk of lower birth weight in newborns.
  • Particles can be smaller than 1/30th the diameter of a human hair.

For our snapshot of the State of the Air report, we’ll go the optimistic route and look at the cleanest metropolitan areas in the U.S., out of 200 MSAs analyzed, as ranked for year-round particle pollution. Hopefully you live in one of them!

Salisbury-Cambridge, MD-DE

Salisbury Maryland park
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Year-round particle pollution rank of this metropolitan area: 9 (tie)

Total population of this metropolitan area: 461,712

This metropolitan area east of Washington, D.C., was tied for first as the cleanest metro in the country when it comes to 24-hour particle pollution. In fact, this metro hasn’t had a high-particle day since 2008. Salisbury also is going for another zero on the issue of single-use plastic bags, which are banned from retail and restaurant establishments there as of July 1, 2023.

Colorado Springs, CO

Colorado Springs, Colorado
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Year-round particle pollution rank of this metropolitan area: 9 (tie)

Total population of this metropolitan area: 762,793

Despite its good ranking for annual particle pollution, Colorado’s second-largest city was 20th worst in the nation for high-ozone days with 11.8 for 2019-2021. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has ordered a 30% reduction in oil and gas emissions by 2025 and 50% by 2030 to help combat ozone pollution.

Amarillo-Pampa-Borger, TX

Amarillo, Texas
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Year-round particle pollution rank of this metropolitan area: 9 (tie)

Total population of this metropolitan area: 312,025

Pollution is feast or famine for this metro area in the Texas Panhandle. It tied for first for cleanest metropolitan area when it comes to 24-hour particle pollution but was 58th worst for high ozone days. Trying to do its share, Xcel Energy will convert its coal-powered Harrington plant in Amarillo to natural gas by 2025.

Duluth, MN-WI

Duluth, Minnesota
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Year-round particle pollution rank of this metropolitan area: 8

Total population of this metropolitan area: 290,780

Despite its high ranking for annual particle pollution, this region at the western end of Lake Superior was 40th worst for 24-hour particle pollution during 2019-2021. A report last year found that the Hibbard Energy Center — whose combustion of coal and biomass helps supply the Minnesota Power utility — “is associated with relatively high health impacts.”

St. George, UT

Saint George, Utah
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Year-round particle pollution rank of this metropolitan area: 7

Total population of this metropolitan area: 191,226

This region in southwest Utah didn’t fare so well in rankings for high-ozone days (56th worst among 227 metros) and 24-hour particle pollution (95th worst among 223 metros). But it made up for those with a strong showing in the measurement for annual particle pollution. Unfortunately, one Utah State professor expects the state’s air quality will keep getting worse.

Bellingham, WA

Bellingham, Washington
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Year-round particle pollution rank of this metropolitan area: 6

Total population of this metropolitan area: 228,831

This city 90 miles north of Seattle also was tied for first for the cleanest metropolitan area in the country for ozone. Unfortunately, air quality in Washington state has increasingly been compromised by summer wildfires. “We no longer have smoke-free summers in Washington,” said an official with the State Department of Health in June.

Bangor, ME

Bangor, Maine
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Year-round particle pollution rank of this metropolitan area: 5

Total population of this metropolitan area: 152,765

This metro along the Penobscot River can boast of clean air credentials that include tying for first place in two metrics, thanks to recording no high-ozone days and no high particle days. The outlook isn’t as good in the water though. An EPA report said Maine had the highest amount of toxic water pollution in 2020 of all New England states, which include Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Wilmington, NC

Wilmington, North Caroline seaside walkway
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Year-round particle pollution rank of this metropolitan area: 3 (tie)

Total population of this metropolitan area: 291,833

In addition to being tied for the No. 3 spot overall, this metro in southeastern North Carolina also tied for first for fewest high-ozone days and high-particle days (zero for both). Unfortunately for area residents, water quality is problematic, to the point that citizens have accused chemical manufacturer Chemours of committing human rights violations with its decades-long PFAS pollution.

Cheyenne, WY

Wyoming Capitol
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Year-round particle pollution rank of this metropolitan area: 3 (tie)

Total population of this metropolitan area: 100,863

Despite its high ranking for clean air, there were some issues in the American Lung Association State of the Air report — Wyoming’s most populous city and its capitol was 44th worst for most high-ozone days and 55th worst for 24-hour particle pollution. The state’s Department of Environmental Quality blamed summer wildfires in 2020 and 2021 for the high ozone measurements.

Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, HI

Kalului homes Maui Hawaii
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Year-round particle pollution rank of this metropolitan area: 1 (tie)

Total population of this metropolitan area: 164,221

Annual particle pollution for this metro on the island of Maui has been steadily dropping since its peak in 2011-2013. Meanwhile, the Surfrider Foundation’s Blue Water Task Force is doing what it can to improve the island’s ecology by measuring fecal indicator bacteria levels in recreational waters.

Urban Honolulu, HI

Honolulu, Hawaii
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Year-round particle pollution rank of this metropolitan area: 1 (tie)

Total population of this metropolitan area: 1,000,890

The Aloha State’s capital and biggest city is at or near No. 1 in everything in the American Lung Association State of the Air survey. It has the fewest high-ozone days (zero), fewest high-particle days (zero) and second lowest annual particle pollution. The outlook isn’t as rosy in the ocean waters, however, where the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation detected unhealthy levels of the fecal bacteria Enterococcus in several locations on the island of Oahu.

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