The US does not have 'the world's cleanest and safest air,' as Trump has claimed. These are the 8 states with the worst air pollution.

Dick Swanson/DocumericaA photo taken in August 1973 shows the Walt Whitman bridge, which spans the Delaware River.
  • President Donald Trump has falsely said that the US has the purest air in the world, but i n fact, it ranks 10th.
  • According to the American Lung Association, the 25 US cities with the most air pollution are mostly clustered in 8 states.
  • Air pollution – which includes particle and ozone pollution – causes 8.8 million deaths annually worldwide and is linked to health problems like childhood asthma and cognitive decline in older adults.
  • These are the eight most polluted states in the US, based on the number of people at risk.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

“Who’s got the world’s cleanest and safest air and water? AMERICA!” President Donald Trump tweeted earlier this month.

Unfortunately, that’s not true.

The US ranks 10th worldwide when it comes to overall air quality, according to The Environmental Performance Index, an analysis by scientists at Yale and Columbia. Australia comes in first.

What’s more, air quality in the US has been declining after decades of improvement, according to reporting from the Associated Press. Using data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the AP found that there were 15% more bad air days per US city last year than the average from preceding years.


Read More:
President Trump keeps falsely saying the US has the ‘world’s cleanest and safest air.’ Actually, he’s making pollution worse.

Of course, levels of air pollution are not equal across the US. According to the 2019 “State of the Air” report from the American Lung Association (ALA) – which compiled pollution data from 2015 to 2017 – the 25 US cities with the worst air pollution are mostly located in eight states.

California topped the list, followed by Oregon and Washington.

Los Angeles is the city with the worst ozone pollution – LA has topped that list in 19 of the last 20 of these reports. The area of California around Fresno, Madera, and Hanford was found to have the most year-round particle pollution, while Bakersfield, California was the city with the worst short-term particle pollution.

There are myriad health risks associated with air pollution, including reduced lung function and increased risk of asthma. Dirty air causes an estimated 8.8 million deaths worldwide every year.

Here are the eight US states with the worst air pollution.


The ALA report evaluates three types of air pollution: short-term particulate matter, year-long particulate matter, and ozone pollution. California ranked the worst across all of them.

Flickr/Al PavangkananA haze of smog covers Los Angeles, California.

California had the greatest number of cities – nine – on the list of the 25 cities most polluted by particulate matter in the short-term. (The report considers short-term PM to be pollution over a 24-hour period.) Those cities included Bakersfield, Fresno, Sacramento, and Los Angeles.

In terms of year-long particle pollution, California has six of the eight most polluted cities. And 10 California cities were among the top 25 for ozone pollution, with eight of the 10 most ozone-polluted cities located in the state.


Particulate matter (PM) refers to dust and other tiny particles floating in the air that are smaller than 2.5 microns wide — that’s 30 times skinnier than a strand of human hair.

Reuters/Aly SongA 45-year-old female migrant construction worker shields her face from dust in Shanghai, China.
For the most part, this air pollution comes in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane. Common sources of particulate matter (sometimes referred to as “PM 2.5” pollution) include emissions from cars, the burning of coal, secondhand smoke, chemicals from power plants, smoke from cooking, and natural sources like forest fires.

Burning fossil fuels also sends carcinogenic particles into the air, like benzene (a chemical linked to childhood leukemia and blood disorders) and formaldehyde (a known carcinogen).


Ground-level ozone pollution, meanwhile, is the result of a chemical reaction in which sunlight interacts with pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, industrial boilers, and refineries.

Edgard Garrido/ReutersBuildings and houses stand shrouded in smog in Mexico City on March 16, 2016.

Unlike the ozone that protects our planet from solar radiation, this type of ozone can trigger breathing problems, particularly for children and the elderly.

Factories and gas-powered vehicles can also produce other air pollutants, like nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide, and hydrocarbons. These chemicals can react with sunlight to create smog.


The report found that more than four in 10 Americans, approximately 43% of the population, live in counties that have experienced unhealthy ozone or particle pollution.

REUTERS/Rickey RogersA helicopter flies over the Hudson River with One World Trade Centre and lower Manhattan in the background, on a hazy day in New York City, December 6, 2015.

That means those counties received at least one “F” grade for unhealthy air.


Breathing polluted air can have dangerous, long-term effects on the brain.

Kevin Frayer/Getty ImagesSmog in Beijing.

A study involving New York City schoolchildren found that kids who breathe poor air are more likely to need academic intervention. Research in the US shows that rates of dementia and cognitive decline are higher in places with more air pollution as well.

Studies conducted in China and Canada, meanwhile, show that children who breathe poor air are more likely to have breathing difficulties and asthma. Heavy exposure over time can also lead to reduced lung function long-term as well, and even cause death.


In the US, over 6 million children had ongoing asthma in 2016.

David McNew / Getty ImagesA doctor instructs a patient how to properly use an asthma inhaler.

Globally, asthma kills around 1,000 people every day, researcher Haneen Khreis wrote in The Conversation.


Overall, air pollution contributes to an estimated 8.8 million extra deaths globally every year.

Damir Sagolj/ReutersPeople make their way through heavy smog on an extremely polluted day with red alert issued, in Shengfang, China, December 19, 2016.

A study published in March showed that nearly 800,000 Europeans died from air pollution-derived issues in 2015 alone.


Another state with particularly air pollution, according to the ALA report, is Oregon. The areas around Bend, Eugene, and Portland all made the list of the 25 cities with the most short-term particulate matter.

Richard Bacon/ShutterstockThe Deschutes river flows through Bend, Oregon.

Crook, Jackson, Klamath, Lake, and Lane Counties all received failing grades for PM pollution.


Washington has similar issues — the state has four cities on the list of the 25 places with the most short-term particulate matter.

Elaine Thompson/APAdi Kang, left, and Brendon Walter take a photo together as a smoky haze obscures the Space Needle and downtown Seattle behind them.

Those cities were Yakima, Spokane, Vancouver, and the Seattle-Tacoma area. Seven counties in the state received failing grades for PM pollution.


Despite its location outside the continental US, parts of Alaska are also among the most polluted in the country.

EQRoy/ShutterstockFairbanks is the second most populous city in Alaska.

The city of Fairbanks is the most polluted city in the US for both short-term and long-term PM pollution. Anchorage is also among the 25 cities with the most short-term pollution.


Texas also ranks among the US’ most polluted states, particularly in terms of ozone pollution. Houston, the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and the region around El Paso all made the list of the top 25 most polluted cities.

ShutterstockSunrise over Houston, Texas.

Houston and McAllen-Edinburg are also on the list of cities with the most year-round PM pollution.


More than a dozen counties in Pennsylvania received a failing grade for air pollution from the American Lung Association.

davidwilson1949/FlickrA haze of smog blankets Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia made the lists of the 25 cities list with the most ozone and year-round PM pollution. Pittsburgh had issues with both short- and long-term PM pollution. Lancaster and the Johnstown-Somerset areas, meanwhile, were also on the list of cities with the highest levels of year-round pollution.


The area of Illinois around Chicago and Naperville is also among the most polluted in terms of both ozone and year-round PM pollution.

Scott Olson/Getty ImagesA bike rider with the city of Chicago, Illinois in the distance.

In Indiana, meanwhile, the region around Indianapolis, Carmel, and Muncie was among the cities with the worst year-round particle pollution.


Six counties in Montana received failing grades for short-term PM pollution, with Missoula ranking as the fifth-worst city in the US in that category.

Prizrak 2084/Wikimedia CommonsThe sun sets over Missoula, Montana.

Three counties – Ravalli, Lincoln, and, Missoula – received failing grades for year-long pollution.


The American Lung Association also listed the six US cities that are cleanest in terms of ozone and particle pollution.

ShutterstockSunset over the Cape Fear river in Wilmington, North Carolina.

In alphabetical order, those cities are: Bangor, Maine; Burlington, Vermont; Honolulu, Hawaii; the area around Lincoln and Beatrice, Nebraska; the part of Florida around Palm Bay, Melbourne, and Titus; and Wilmington, North Carolina.


However, the overall number of Americans exposed to polluted air increased to nearly 141.1 million between 2015 and 2017. That’s up from the total of 133.9 million between 2014 and 2016. This EPA map shows the counties that had not met the agency’s Clean Air Act standards as of last year.

In 2014, the EPA estimated that between 50,000 and 120,000 people in the US die prematurely every year because of bad air.

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