These six cities have the cleanest air in the US

In Bangor, Maine, you can race canoes and inhale some of the cleanest urban air in the US.
In Bangor, Maine, you can race canoes and inhale some of the cleanest urban air in the US.
Image: AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty
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It isn’t easy to find a city with exceptionally clean air in the US. About four in 10 people in the US live in counties where the air has either more ozone or more particulate pollution than is considered healthy. That’s about 43% of the population. So where is it safe to breathe?

Between emissions from power plants, cars, and trucks; oil and gas drilling; wildfires; and agricultural pollution, most major American cities have their share of days when their air is polluted at unhealthy levels. Some have it much worse than others (for a list of the cities with the worst air pollution in the US, click here).

But in its State of the Air report released Wednesday (April 24), the American Lung Association identified a few cities that did not log a single bad-air day at all between 2015 and 2017, the time period analyzed. A bad-air day is defined by a spike in either particulate matter pollution (also known as PM2.5) or ozone pollution above the limit set by the US Environmental Protection Agency for acceptably healthy air. Both ozone and particulate pollution are linked to respiratory diseases, developmental delays, and a litany of other health risks.

In the following six cities, residents never experienced a day when ozone or particulate pollution spiked into unhealthy ranges, and average year-round particulate pollution in these cities ranked among the lowest nationally. In alphabetical order, these are the cleanest metropolitan areas in America:

  • Bangor, Maine
  • Burlington-South Burlington, Vermont
  • Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Lincoln-Beatrice, Nebraska
  • Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Florida
  • Wilmington, North Carolina

Though not quite as clean as those six cities, eight other cities did pretty well: They had no days of spikes in particulate pollution, and they were among the cities with the lowest concentration of particulate pollution year-round, too. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA set a health standard for particulate matter: Any city with a concentration higher than 12 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) of PM2.5 is exposing their residents to health risks and fails to comply with the Clean Air Act. Each city on this list had year-round particulate matter pollution well below that level. (This list does not, however, take ozone pollution into account.)

In alphabetical order, those pretty-good metropolitan areas are:

  • Cape Coral-Fort Myers-Naples, Florida
  • Elmira-Corning, New York
  • Gainesville-Lake City, Florida
  • Grand Island, Nebraska
  • North Port-Sarasota, Florida
  • Pittsfield, Massachusetts
  • St. George, Utah
  • Syracuse-Auburn, New York