Which U.S. Cities Have the Cleanest Air?

by | Updated: June 30th, 2017 | Read time: 4 minutes

Residents of six U.S. metro areas truly can breathe easy.

A recent report from the American Lung Association singles out six locales that recorded no days from 2013 through 2015 when ozone or particle pollution reached unhealthy levels, and that also had the lowest year-round levels of particle pollution. By contrast, nearly 4 in 10 Americans live somewhere that experienced unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution during that period.

Woman Drinking Tea on Balcony in City With Clean Air | Vitacost.com/blog

So, where should you go if you want to breathe America’s cleanest air? Here are the six places:

  • Burlington-South Burlington, Vermont
  • Cape Coral-Fort Myers-Naples, Florida
  • Elmira-Corning, New York
  • Honolulu
  • Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Florida
  • Wilmington, North Carolina

Of those areas, only Wilmington made a first-time appearance this year on the American Lung Association’s list of the places with the cleanest air.

Fort Myers Mayor Randall Henderson Jr. says his city — once frequented as a wintertime getaway by inventor Thomas Edison — features some of the world’s best environmental qualities, contributing to its breathable air.

“We are a coastal community in a tropical setting. Cleansing rains are a welcomed event, cooling things off in the hotter months and adding to the air quality in the process,” Henderson says. “Our thriving ecosystem contributes favorably to air quality, as we are lush with foliage and new growth.”

Furthermore, the mayor says, the Fort Myers City Council has embraced a progressive energy policy, featuring elements such as solar power and alternative fuels.

What to do if you can’t move

So, what can you do if, unlike Fort Myers, your city didn’t show up on the list of the places with the cleanest air in America? The American Lung Association offers these suggestions:

  • Spend less time behind the wheel. Vehicle emissions are a big source of air pollution, so you clean help make the air more breathable by walking, cycling, carpooling, using public transportation and adopting other alternatives to driving.
  • Consume less electricity. Turn out the lights around your home when you don’t need them and use energy-efficient appliances. Generation of electricity is one of the biggest contributors to air pollution, especially in the East.
  • Support efforts in your community to ban outdoor burning of construction and yard waste. Such burning pollutes the air.
  • Be sure your local schools are transporting students in energy-efficient buses as a way to reduce vehicle emissions.
  • Encourage the president and Congress to protect and enforce the federal Clean Air Act. For information on how to get involved, visit fightingforair.org/spread-the-word.

The dangers of living in a city without clean air

If there were ever any doubts about the benefits of clean air, a 2011 study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency helped put those to rest. The study found that improvements made to the federal Clean Air Act had greatly reduced air pollution and had, in 2010 alone, avoided:

  • More than 160,000 premature deaths
  • About 130,000 heart attacks
  • Millions of cases of respiratory problems such as asthma attacks and acute bronchitis
  • About 86,000 hospital admissions

Meanwhile, a study released in 2009 by researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU) and Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health concluded that average life expectancy in 51 U.S. cities had increased 2.7 years from 1980 through about 2000, and that up to five months of that increase could be tied to cleaner air.

“Such a significant increase in life expectancy attributable to reducing air pollution is remarkable,” says C. Arden Pope III, a BYU epidemiologist who led the study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. “We find that we’re getting a substantial return on our investments in improving our air quality. Not only are we getting cleaner air that improves our environment, but it is improving our public health.”

Such gains are being threatened by the Trump administration, the American Lung Association warns. In late March, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at wiping out efforts launched by his predecessor, President Barack Obama, to combat the effects of climate change.

The Lung Association says Trump’s directive contradicts the EPA’s mission of protecting public health and undercuts its ability to uphold the promise of the Clean Air Act to ensure Americans breathe healthy air. A key climate-change initiative shepherded by Obama — the Clean Power Plan, designed to reduce carbon pollution from power plants — eventually would prevent 90,000 asthma attacks and 3,600 premature deaths each year, the Lung Association says.

“Ignoring climate change puts the health of millions of Americans at risk, and the longer our leaders delay climate action, the more the public will suffer the consequences,” says Wimmer, the association’s president and CEO.