MoneyINC Logo
Years of

20 Cities with the Worst Air Quality in the U.S.


Did you know that more than 40% of the golden state residents reside in areas with unhealthy air? According to a report published by the American Lung Association, over 137 million people live in places with worst air quality due to Particle pollution or Ozone. From the report, 2.1 million more Americans are currently breathing more hazardous air than ever in their two-decade history for the past three consecutive years.

To find the statistics, the association considers two aspects of Ozone and Particle pollution, both short and long term. It indicates that this year has seen a spike in the study items due to widespread wildfires and extreme heat, given that this year also ranked among the seven hottest years globally. Before we list down the cities in America with the worst air quality, let's explore more regarding these risky pollution aspects.

What is the Difference Between Particle and Ozone Air Pollution?

Particle pollution is a combination of microscopic solids and liquid in the air. There are several sources of this type of pollution, including smoke from factories, gasoline, and diesel-powered motor vehicles, power plants, and many other things that emit the particles directly or indirectly by releasing gasses such as nitrogen oxide. Another common source of particle pollution is burning wood in wildfires and even in residential places. On the other hand, Ozone is an ed2'a gas made of molecules and three oxygen atoms. Usually, the Oxygen we breathe is made of molecules and two atoms of Oxygen. When the Oxygen combines with other gasses, mostly nitrogen, in the presence of the sun, a series of chemical reactions occur in the lower part of the atmosphere (Ozone), affecting its ultraviolet shielding abilities.

What Are the Effects of Air Pollution on Human Health?

A handful of health hazards are caused by the tiny particles and Ozone in the air we breathe. Several body parts are affected in the process, but the lungs are the most affected. It damages the airways and blood vessels, causing various health issues such as lung cancer, asthma in children, brain damage, and even heart failure.

20. Yakima, Washington

Yakima, a city whose economy has always revolved around agriculture and is ranked as one of the most polluted metro areas in the country in 2022. The air pollution here is highly attributed to the emission from vehicles. The other air pollution causes are heavy agricultural activities, construction, logging, and mining, as well as frequent use of pesticide sprays that make Yakima hazy.

19. Logan, Utah

The city of Logan in Utah is on the list for short-term particulate pollution. The city managed to stay low in the other two pollution categories and became committed to having good air quality, forcing individuals to believe this city is better. However, according to Brigham Young University, 2500-8000 deaths come as a result of the pollution. The biggest contributors to poor air quality in Logan are cars, trucks, and heavy-duty vehicles. The research established that the U.S. nation uses millions and billions of dollars in the health sector in Utah every year.

18. Salt Lake City, Utah

Salt Lake City in Utah is among the top in the list of the worst quality air in the USA. In terms of ozone pollution, the city" s air quality poses a health challenge to the sensitive groups in the society, including the elderly, children, and those with heart and lung complications. Much of the city's air pollution comes from vehicle fumes, followed by homes and business premises which contribute 2% of the pollution in the city.

17. Bend, Oregon

In Deschutes county in Oregon, Bend is the 5th largest metro area. With a population of over 197 000 by 2019, the city is experiencing a state of unhealthy air quality. The top causes of air pollution in this city are the cars and trucks as the city relies most on diesel for its transportation sector. In the American Lung Association, the city ranked 11th in year-round particulate pollution and remained low in the other two aspects.

16. Fort Collins, Colorado

Even though Fort Collins has improved its air over time by frequently identifying and implementing the factors that aim at reducing the pollution level over the years, the city is still ranked among the most polluted cities in the USA. The major source of its air pollution is vehicle fumes. Its government is still on top of its gears, trying to better the situation in this city.

15. Las Vegas, Nevada

The 28th most popular city in the USA, Vegas, known as 'Sin City' due to its adult-themed content, was not spared in terms of air pollution. Together with Albuquerque and Santa Fe, Vegas appeared on the list of the worst quality air in the USA. The city managed to save its name from the list regarding particulate pollution.

14. Redding, California

Redding and Red Bluff, located near lake Shansa in the northern part of California, have severely suffered wildfires, which is why they rank among the most polluted cities in the U.S. Whenever the fires rage, the particles float visibly in the air giving the region a gloomy atmosphere.

13. Chico, California

Air quality in Chico, California, ranked among the worst in the nation in 2022. It has been a public crisis for some time now. Despite being among the cities with the smallest population and located in the rural areas of Butt county in northern California, Chico still emerged in this negative list. One of the natural causes of the imbalance in the city is the wildfires which are quite rampant. Vehicular emissions, and agricultural dust, are the major causes of air pollution in this city. Also, its location in the Sacramento valley does it no favor at all as the ranges act to trap the pollutants and accumulate them in the lower atmosphere.

12. Sacramento, California

Sacramento is located in Northern California. The city has for years recorded high temperatures and subsequent fires largely caused by climatic changes. The biggest air pollutants in Sacramento are ozone precursors and particulate matter.

11. Medford, Oregon

The two cities of Medford and Grants Pass recently appeared among the top most polluted cities in the United States. One of the major causes of this situation is the wildfires that occur most of the time in this region. However, an inversion layer in winter usually traps particles causing particulate pollution.

10. Los Angeles, California

In the 2022 air pollution, Los Angeles was among the top most polluted cities in the U.S. Additionally, being notorious for Ozone and particulate pollution; this trend arises from such factors as rampant wildfires, fossil fuel combustion from planes, ships, vehicles, and manufacturing industries. Also, its large population of about 4 million in Los Angeles and another 6+ million surrounding the city contributes highly to the air pollution in this popular city. As you can imagine, the fires from the residents of such a large population in one city, such as BBQ, and many other private emissions, are enough to pollute the air in the whole city.

9. Houston, Texas

Smog control has been a challenge in Houston, Texas, for a while now. EPA designated the city as a strong violator of the smog control rules, which may prompt them to take more aggressive regulations. However, citing the dangers caused by the ozone layer to human health, the organization seeks to bring new designations to Houston, claiming it would trigger the desired change.

8. San Diego, California

This year San Diego improved its air quality even though it didn't leave the list of the most polluted cities. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the local officials had to take immediate measures to protect the vulnerable communities in the city. However, phasing out gasoline-powered vehicles was one way to change the trend in San Diego.

7. El Centro, California

On the Mexican-California border sits the city of El Centro. The city is ranked among the most polluted in the U.S. With 90% of its population being people of color, El Centro is an agricultural zone, and most of its air pollution comes from agricultural activities. The city shares its air with two other jurisdictions, the Mexican city of Mexicali to its south and the South Coast Air Quality Management District. With the city's agricultural activities, it serves the greater USA with its products, and controlling its air pollution has been a challenge; although there are rules for air management, they have not been enforced as they should. The pollution in this city led to the Comite Civico Del Valle's executive director citing it as the "poster child of what the climate crisis looks like."

6. Phoenix, Arizona

In 2022, Phoenix, a city in Maricopa county, is among the most polluted cities in terms of Ozone and particle pollution. According to the data collected by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, most of the city's pollution comes from vehicle emission.

5. San Jose California

With San Francisco and Oakland, San Jose ranked 13th among the most polluted USA cities in terms of Ozone and 4th in both short-term and year-round particulate pollution in 2022. Silicon Valley, with its history of traffic pollution, is hosted in this city, so you can tell where most of its notoriously poor quality air comes from.

4. Fairbanks, Alaska

Fairbanks, Alaska, is one of the cities with the worst air quality in the U.S. With many people living in areas where wood stoves and wildfires are the norm, they are at risk of diseases caused by such pollution. With the cold temperatures in the city, burning wood is cheaper than fuel; this is a norm in any place where there is plenty of wood. However, like many cities in the U.S., Alaska is surrounded by mountains causing inversion whereby warm air traps the cold and dirty air preventing its dissipation. Power plants are another major cause of pollution in this city.

3. Visalia, California

Located a few miles from Fresco, Visalia is among the top cities with the worst quality air in the U.S. This is according to the 2022 American Lung Association; Like the other cities in the central part of California, Visalia has the same geographical problem. It suffers pollution through the trapped dirty, cold air and fumes from various industrial dairies, given that this city is a hotspot for large-scale dairy farming. Furthermore, it has more than a million cattle, a population overruling that of human beings in this city.

2. Fresno-Madera-Hanford, CA

With a population of more than 1 million people, Fresno-Madera-Hanford, California, was counted among the cities with the most polluted air in 2022 in terms of particle pollution. With the ever-hot climate in the city, this is no surprise to its inhabitants. However, being a farming city, one of the biggest causes of pollution is the gasoline and diesel emissions from the huge motor vehicles—also, mountains in the surrounding cause an inversion layer for the pollutants.

1. Bakersfield, California

Bakersfield in California came first for the year-round particle pollution, second in the short term, and Ozone. The city, whose two-thirds of the population is people of color, is a hub for agriculture, energy production, and distribution. Thus, most of its pollution comes from the gas industry. Also, this is the ninth largest city in California. This means a big percentage of its air pollution comes from its residents.

Final Thought

It's true; many people in the U.S. live in areas with the worst quality air. As we've seen, California tops the list of the cities with unhealthy air. As a first-world nation, U.S. cities get most of their air pollution from vehicles. However, this includes power plants, and other activities such as agriculture and mining.

Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

Related Articles

Stay ahead of the curve with our most recent guides and articles on , freshly curated by our diligent editorial team for your immediate perusal.
As featured on:

Wealth Insight!
Subscribe to our Exclusive Newsletter

Dive into the world of wealth and extravagance with Money Inc! Discover stock tips, businesses, luxury items, and travel experiences curated for the affluent observer.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram