The best and worst cities for clean air around the world
The air we breathe is one of the most critical elements of our existence, so it’s no surprise there’s concern over the quality of that air. Air pollution is the result of a combination of natural and human-made particulates that together create unhealthy, unpleasant air. The air quality experts at HouseFresh recently released “The World’s Best and Worst Towns and Cities for Clean Air in 2022.”It outlines where fine particulate matter of 2.5 microns or less measure highest and lowest around the globe.
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When we talk about air pollution, there are many contributing factors. Natural events like wildfires and volcanoes leave ash lingering in the air. Human activities such as driving, running factories and creating energy also release toxins into the air. Because much of the problem starts with humans, it makes sense that densely populated areas are often the hardest hit when it comes to measurements of air quality.
The report by HouseFresh supports this idea with India, the world’s second most populated country, hosting 35 of the top 50 most polluted cities. However, the top spot for the most polluted country goes to Bangladesh, followed by Chad, Pakistan, Tajikistan and India. In general, some areas of the globe suffer from air pollution significantly more than others. In fact, the top 50 most polluted cities worldwide can be found in just seven countries: India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Bangladesh, China, Chad and Turkey.
Although air pollution may be most visible in these areas, what we’re really testing can’t be seen with the human eye. Called a PM2.5 rating, it measures the tiniest particles in the air, which are over 100 times smaller than a human hair. Particles that small nestle nicely into the lungs and even the bloodstream, resulting in serious health issues. The World Health Organization attributes over seven million annual deaths to poor air quality, which causes respiratory conditions, cardiovascular issues and cancer.
Although many of the countries in the “worst” column are in heavily populated regions on the other side of the world, there are significant issues in the U.S. In particular, the highly populated state of California where, following the wildfires in 2021, Weaverville marked the dirtiest air in America with a PM2.5 of 34.7µg/m3.
During the height of the fire season, that number jumped to 246.6µg/m3 for the same area. That’s more than twice the PM2.5 of the world’s dirtiest city for 2021, Bhiwadi (Rajasthan), India, which measured 106.2µg/m3. Weaverville isn’t alone in the state, however. In fact, 22 of the 25 worst cities across the U.S. for PM2.5 pollution were located in California. Nearby Minden, Nevada suffered the effects of the poor air in California, ranking 11th on the list for the country. Terrell, Texas was in 14th position.
The news isn’t all gloom and doom, however. Many cities are enjoying the fresh air nature intended. The truth is, most of America ranked within the World Health Organization’s target range for air quality, when taken on average and as a whole. Out of 117 countries, the U.S. ranked 28th for the cleanest air.
Breaking it down Neah Bay, Washington claimed the nation’s cleanest air, with a PM2.5 measure of 3.1µg/m3. Raymond, Washington and Hilo, Hawaii tied for the second-place position in the U.S., scoring an average PM2.5 of 3.2µg/m3.
“The World Health Organization (WHO) have released guidelines that set targets for the amount of PM2.5 a city should aim to have in its air, measured in µg/m³. To help demystify these targets we have labeled any above the official WHO target of 0-5 µg/m³ from good (5.1-10 µg/m³) to extremely toxic (>50 µg/m³),” explained HouseFresh.
May is Clean Air Month, bringing focus to a topic that’s drowned out beneath debates about renewable energy and single-use plastic. However, the seriousness of the air quality topic has been addressed for decades, really launching with the U.S. Clean Air Act in 1970. 53 years later, we can see promising improvements in our management of air pollution. According to HouseFresh, “As of 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports a 77% drop in air pollutants while the country experienced a growth in the gross domestic product by 324%.”
We’ve learned a lot about air and water pollution over the years. For example, eliminating lead from gasoline is credited with reduction in early deaths and IQ damage from lead exposure. However, we still have work to do in addressing pollution. With continued research and published reports, such as this one by HouseFresh, we can keep the conversation as fresh as the air we hope to breathe.