California Remains the Worst Air-Quality State Along With Neighboring Western States

Unhealthy Air Pollution in California (Photo: Getty Images)

A report published by the American Lung Association on Wednesday highlighted worsening air quality in California and other Western states, exacerbated by heat, drought, and wildfires, with communities of color disproportionately affected by pollution.

According to the “State of the Air” report, between 2019 and 2021, nearly 120 million people, over a third of the population, lived in areas with unhealthy air pollution levels.

Of these, more than 64 million were people of color, comprising over half of those exposed to poor air quality.

Cities in the Western U.S., impacted by climate change-driven heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires, ranked among the highest for ground-level ozone and fine particulate-matter pollution.

The report graded areas based on the number of days air quality exceeded unhealthy levels on the Air Quality Index, with ozone and particle pollution stemming from sources like factories, vehicles, and wildfires.

Over the period studied, approximately 103 million people resided in 124 counties that received failing grades for ozone smog.

Ozone pollution, affecting breathing more widely than any other pollutant, posed significant health risks across the country.

California dominated the list of most polluted cities:

Top 10 cities with the worst ozone pollution:

  • Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA
  • Visalia, CA
  • Bakersfield, CA
  • Fresno-Madera-Hanford, CA
  • Phoenix-Mesa, AZ
  • Denver-Aurora, CO
  • Sacramento-Roseville, CA
  • San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad, CA
  • Houston-The Woodlands, TX
  • Salt Lake City-Provo-Orem, UT
Air Quality at the West Coast (Photo: Getty Images)

More than 64 million Americans lived in counties with failing grades for daily spikes in particle pollution, driven notably by wildfires. Bakersfield ranked highest for both daily and year-round particle pollution.

Top 10 cities with the worst daily particle pollution:

  • Bakersfield, CA
  • Fresno-Madera-Hanford, CA
  • Fairbanks, AK
  • Visalia, CA
  • Reno-Carson City-Fernley, NV
  • San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA
  • Redding-Red Bluff, CA
  • Sacramento-Roseville, CA
  • Chico, CA
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA

Top 10 cities with the worst year-round particle pollution:

  • Bakersfield, CA
  • Visalia, CA
  • Fresno-Madera-Hanford, CA
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA
  • Fairbanks, AK
  • Sacramento-Roseville, CA
  • Medford-Grants Pass, OR
  • Phoenix-Mesa, AZ
  • San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA
  • Indianapolis-Carmel-Muncie, IN

The report underscored that air pollution contributes to a significant reduction in global life expectancy, with a majority of particulate-matter pollution originating from fossil fuel combustion.

People of color were found to be nearly four times more likely than white people to reside in areas with unhealthy levels of ozone and particle pollution.

Harold Wimmer, CEO of the American Lung Association, emphasized the need for continued efforts to ensure clean air for all Americans, noting improvements in national ozone levels but disparities in air quality improvements across communities.

The report called on the Biden administration to implement stricter limits on ozone and particle pollution and enhance measures to reduce emissions from vehicles and power plants.

It relied on data from air-quality monitors managed by local, state, and tribal authorities, while highlighting gaps in monitoring coverage in many areas affected by climate change impacts.

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Categorized as Health

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