America's Dirtiest Air Is In California, But Most Americans Live With Unhealthy Levels Of Air Pollution

America's dirtiest air is officially found in California, according to the latest annual report from the American Lung Association. Seven of the top 10 worst cities for ozone pollution in the country are located in the Golden State, but the report also shows that more than half of all Americans live in areas that suffer from unhealthy air quality.

The annual "State of the Air" report that the American Lung Society releases each year tracks three different measures of air pollution, and California cities dominated in each category. Six of the worst cities for short-term particle pollution, six of the worst for year-round particle pollution, and seven of the worst for ozone pollution made their respective lists for the cities with America's dirtiest air.

Bakersfield, California, may have the dirtiest air in America, as it took the top spot for both year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution while coming in second for worst ozone pollution. The Los Angeles-Long Beach metro area topped the list for worst ozone pollution in America but came in lower on the other lists.

America's dirtiest air in Bakersfield
Kern County, home of Bakersfield, has some of the dirtiest air in America. [Screenshot via American Lung Society]

According to the American Lung Association report, California may have America's dirtiest air, but people all across the country are living with one type of air pollution or another. The annual air quality report card found that some 166 million Americans live in areas that have unhealthy levels of either particle or ozone pollution, which accounts for over half of the people in the entire country.

The report also shows that a significant number of people, and not all of them in California, live in areas where two or even all three of the different air pollution metrics are dangerously high.

"There are still nearly 20 million people in the United States that live with unhealthful levels of all three measures of air pollution the report tracks: ozone, short-term and year-round particle pollution," Harold Wimmer, President of the American Lung Association, said via press release.

America's cleanest air in Hawaii
Just four cities made the list of cleanest air in America. [Image via American Lung Society]

In addition to tracking the cities with America's dirtiest air, the American Lung Society also generates a list of cities with America's cleanest air. However, only four cities in the country qualified this year.

"Everyone has the right to breathe healthy air, yet only four cities—Burlington-South Burlington, Vt.; Elmira-Corning, N.Y.; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Salinas, Calif.—qualified for the 'cleanest cities' list in the 'State of the Air' report."

Numerous environmental and human factors align to create the cities with America's dirtiest air, and some areas with particularly polluted air, like Bakersfield, exist in something close to a perfect storm of stagnation and pollution. According to Science World Report, Bakersfield and surrounding communities suffer from a bowl-shaped topography created by surrounding mountains, which, combined with already stagnant air, helps trap particles and other pollution from fires, industrial activities, and other sources.

Despite the number of Californian cities that made the list of places with America's dirtiest air and the number of people around the country who live with air pollution every day, the report also found that air quality has improved in recent years.

For instance, although Los Angeles topped the list of places with the worst ozone pollution, the city actually experienced the fewest number of unhealthy ozone days ever during the latest report period. Five other cities also reported their fewest unhealthy ozone days ever, and 15 more showed some improvement compared to data from the previous report.

Short-term pollution, on the other hand, has actually gotten worse since the 2015 report. According to the current report, the cities with America's dirtiest air suffered from spikes of short-term particle pollution that were worse than seen in previous years. However, many of these spikes were attributed to sources like wildfires and air stagnation brought on by drought.

Data for the 2016 "State of the Air" report was taken from EPA data collected between 2012 and 2014.

Do you live in, or have you ever visited, one of the cities with America's dirtiest air? Would you ever consider moving to one of the few cities with the cleanest air?

[Photo by Richard Vogel/AP Images]