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The 50 U.S. Cities With the Worst Air Quality

author image Sara Jayne Crow
Sara has served as Editor-in-Chief or Contributing Writer for a variety of magazines, such as Dubious and Minty in Seattle, XLR8R of San Francisco, Chicago’s Blacklist, the New York-based Flavorwire, Los Angeles' URB, and Resident Advisor of Berlin. Sara specializes in well-bred content and content marketing for a range of industries, from fashion and fitness to finance, hospitality, technology and entertainment.

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The 50 U.S. Cities With the Worst Air Quality
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Watch out, America! Environmental Health & Engineering (EHE), an environmental consulting company, has released the results for the second annual AirGenius Awards, naming the 50 best and the 50 worst cites for air quality. They weighed a range of factors, such as pollen counts, ozone concentrations, particulate-matter concentrations, public smoking laws, access to parks and green city rankings. Here is our guide to those cities, along with some suggestions for how they can improve air quality. In most of these cases, corporate and financial interests trump ecological preservation measures. The question remains: What’s the point of making money while ruining the environment for both ourselves and future generations?

50. Buffalo, New York
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Buffalo -- located in western New York -- is surrounded by water. It’s on the shores of Lake Erie and near Niagara Falls by the Canadian border. Buffalo’s History Museum, built for the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, houses a wealth of genealogical information and historical artifacts from the development of the area. Unfortunately, Buffalo’s pollution is due largely to coal pollution from nearby power plants Huntley and Somerset. The city can reduce pollution by strengthening emissions laws for manufacturing and coal plants.

Related: Learn more about visiting Buffalo, New York.

49. Grand Rapids, Michigan
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Known as Beer City USA, Grand Rapids is located on the Grand River just east of Lake Michigan. “Lonely Planet” named Grand Rapids the top U.S. destination for travelers in 2014. Despite the numerous attractions, Grand Rapids is very polluted. As Brad Van Guilder, a Michigan Sierra Club organizer, told the Grand Rapids Business Journal, “Coal-fueled power plants like DTE Energy Co.’s Monroe, Trenton Channel, River Rouge, St. Clair, Belle River and Marysville plants were the greatest contributors” to pollution in the area. Grand Rapids can improve air quality by reducing coal power plant emissions.

Related: Learn more about visiting Grand Rapids, Michigan.

48. Madison, Wisconsin
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Madison, Wisconsin’s capital, is a college town home to the University of Wisconsin, with several privately owned small businesses that contribute to its prosperous economy. Cafes, bookstores, breweries and restaurants create a sense of small-town culture. In fact, Madison has the most restaurants per capita in the United States. The city recently implemented a smoking ban to improve its air quality, but it could support further initiatives like promoting commuter rideshare programs.

Related: Learn more about visiting Madison, Wisconsin.

47. New Orleans, Louisiana
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Just like the signature Cajun dish jambalaya, the Big Easy is a melting pot of diverse cultural influences. Vestiges of its original French settlers remain. In fact, New Orleans was named after the French duke of Orleans. It birthed jazz music and was influenced by Cajun and zydeco genres. New Orleans should pass stricter laws on industry to reduce pollution, as companies like Chalmette Refinery contribute greatly to poor air quality.

Related: Learn more about visiting New Orleans, Louisiana.

46. Omaha, Nebraska
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Sometimes called the Heartland of America, Omaha is located on the Missouri River. Its Bob Kerrey Bridge is a 3,000-foot suspension bridge overlooking the Missouri. Those standing in the center of the bridge can have one foot in Nebraska and one foot in Iowa. But Omaha can improve its air quality by further incentivizing residents to use public transportation.

Related: Learn more about visiting Omaha, Nebraska.

45. Oxnard, California
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Located about 60 miles north of Los Angeles, Oxnard is a small oceanfront town with stunning natural beauty. Home to marinas, the Channel Islands National Park and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, Oxnard offers various aquatic activities and sports for visitors and residents. To improve air quality, however, Oxnard can continue to strengthen its public education programs on various ecological topics and promote planting.

Related: Learn more about visiting Oxnard, California.

44. Portland, Maine
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The aptly named Portland is a port city located along the Atlantic Ocean. Known for its numerous lighthouses, rolling hills, cobblestone streets, brick buildings and historic old ports, Portland is a relic of American history. It seems that Portland already takes good measures to improve air quality. Much of the air-quality problems are due to the pollution of other locations. Glen Brand, director of the Maine chapter of the Sierra Club, wrote in a statement, “As the ‘tailpipe of the nation,’ Maine suffers from downwind toxic air pollution from coal-burning plants and other dirty energy sources.” The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld the Cross-State Air Pollution health standard to reduce air pollution in Portland.

Related: Learn more about visiting Portland, Maine.

43. Syracuse, New York
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The quaint town of Syracuse, known as “Emerald City,” is the fifth largest city in New York and is home to Syracuse University. Most recommendations for the region involve cutting down power plant emissions. In fact, a recent study co-authored by scientists at Syracuse University and Harvard says, “Setting strong standards for climate-changing carbon emissions from power plants would provide an added bonus -- reductions in other air pollutants that can make people sick; damage forests, crops and lakes; and harm fish and wildlife.”

Related: Learn more about visiting Syracuse, New York.

42. Virginia Beach, Virginia
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Located in coastal Virginia along the Atlantic Ocean, Virginia Beach sits at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. The nearby Cape Henry was the first landing site of English colonists in April 1607. The history and natural beauty of the area should be preserved, and state agencies recommend further regulating power plant emissions in both Virginia and nearby states to improve air quality.

Related: Learn more about visiting Virginia Beach, Virginia.

41. Youngstown, Ohio
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Youngstown is situated on the Mahoning River southeast of Cleveland. Originally a steel-manufacturing locus, today Youngstown is the only city in the United States whose population has decreased more than two percent in recent years. Youngstown can reduce pollution by strengthening emissions controls, and Ohio is already well on its way: The U.S. Environmental Defense Fund Report recently named Ohio as a leader in reducing air emissions and creating jobs.

Related: Learn more about visiting Youngstown, Ohio.

40. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
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Oklahoma City is the capital and largest city of Oklahoma. Located in central Oklahoma, it’s a stop along the historic State Route 66. Strangely, the city is built on an active oil field -- oil derricks are even present near the capital. With this in mind, the city’s pollution is no surprise. Recently constructed renewable-energy sources like wind farms have improved the city’s air quality, but it is recommended that Oklahoma increase standards for hazardous waste reduction.

Related: Learn more about visiting Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

39. New York, New York
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New York, the city that never sleeps, is home to some of the most iconic landmarks of the United States. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Central Park, the Empire State Building, the Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are all notable landmarks of the Big Apple. The city is making great strides to reduce pollution by setting forth a number of municipal codes. Still, air quality can be further improved through large-scale environmental development plans like the recent Staten Island Bluebelt, an ecologically sound storm-water management program.

Related: Learn more about visiting New York, New York.

38. Chicago, Illinois
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The “windy city” of Chicago is a hub of culture, industry, history and vitality. As the third most populous city in the United States, there’s no shortage of things to enjoy. The Museum Campus, situated on Lake Michigan, includes the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium. The city has a developed an urban transit system to reduce vehicle idling, but it can further improve air quality by offering incentives for using and purchasing electric vehicles.

Related: Learn more about visiting Chicago, Illinois.

37. Houston, Texas
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Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States after New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. The city is known for the Sam Houston monument erected in honor of General Sam Houston, the president of the Republic of Texas. With such a booming population, the city’s Green Houston initiative recommends carpooling, walking, biking and using mass transit to reduce carbon emissions.

Related: Learn more about visiting Houston, Texas.

36. Salt Lake City, Utah
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Salt Lake City is a recreational destination for winter sports, with four ski resorts in the city -- not to mention nearby resorts in Provo Canyon, Park City and Ogden. There are numerous other outdoor activities to enjoy in canyons and parks around the city. The city recommends that residents assist in improving air quality by carpooling, reducing idling, regularly smog checking vehicles and using shovels instead of snowblowers.

Related: Learn more about visiting Salt Lake City, Utah.

35. Bridgeport, Connecticut
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Bridgeport is the largest city in Connecticut, located across the New Haven Harbor and northeast of New York City. Oddly, it’s the birthplace of the Frisbee and was once home to the circus ringleader P.T. Barnum. Just like its neighbor New Haven, it’s recommended that Bridgeport reduce pollution by strengthening public transit systems and offering incentives for rideshare commuters.

Related: Learn more about visiting Bridgeport, Connecticut.

34. Jacksonville, Florida
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Jacksonville is in northeastern Florida and centered on the banks of the St. Johns River, the tributaries of which reach east through the Mill Cove to the white-sand beaches of the Atlantic. These waterways provide ample opportunity for watersports like fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding and surfing. Jacksonville recently implemented forward-thinking measures to reduce emissions by installing charging stations for electric cars, but the city can extend this initiative by offering citizens incentives for purchasing electric vehicles.

Related: Learn more about visiting Jacksonville, Florida.

33. Lancaster, Pennsylvania
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The heart of “Dutch Country,” Lancaster is located in central Pennsylvania and is the oldest Amish settlement in America. An Amish community still thrives here, relying on horse-drawn carriages for transportation and eschewing electricity. Perhaps non-Amish residents can learn from the low-carbon footprints of their neighbors: “Lancaster’s air still stinks,” reports Lancaster Online. Deb Brown, CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, recommends that to improve Lancaster’s air quality, “We must set stronger health standards for pollutants and clean up sources of pollution in the York region to protect the health of our citizens.”

Related: Learn more about visiting Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

32. New Haven, Connecticut
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New Haven -- or The Elm City -- was originally founded in 1638 by English Puritans. It is known as the home of Yale University. It’s no surprise that New Haven struggles with air quality, since it’s located northeast of New York City on New Haven Harbor along the northern shore of the Long Island Sound. New Haven could reduce emissions by strengthening public transit systems and offering incentives for rideshare commuters.

Related: Learn more about visiting New Haven, Connecticut.

31. Scranton, Pennsylvania
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Scranton, historically a small coal-mining town, is today home to skiing destinations like the Montage Mountain Ski Resort and tourist attractions the Everhart Museum. Forbes recently listed Scranton as one of the 10 fastest-growing real estate markets in the country, one of the best places to raise kids and one of the best places to start over. How can the city improve its air quality? Deb Brown, CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, says, “We must set stronger health standards for pollutants and clean up sources of pollution in [Scranton] to protect the health of our citizens.”

Related: Learn more about visiting Scranton, Pennsylvania.

30. Baltimore, Maryland
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Baltimore is located in central Maryland along the Patapsco River and the Chesapeake Bay. It is home to a large seaport, and the downtown area is centered on the gorgeous Inner Harbor. However, the bay area creates difficult geographic challenges “from air pollution from power plants, animal waste and fertilizer and pollutions washed off hard surfaces by runoff,” according to a CBS Baltimore report. Baltimore should begin by strengthening laws for power plant emissions.

Related: Learn more about visiting Baltimore, Maryland.

29. Charlotte, North Carolina
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Charlotte is filled with amenities for both residents and tourists: White-water rafting trips through the U.S. National Whitewater Center, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens and the Carrowinds Amusement and Water Park are just a few of the city’s attractions. But in order to make it a more livable city, they can reduce pollution by augmenting its 2002 Clean Smokestacks Act.

Related: Learn more about visiting Charlotte, North Carolina.

28. Dallas, Texas
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Dallas was historically a center for the oil and cotton industries. The arterial Trinity River is surrounded by the lush Greenbelt Park bordering downtown, providing stunning views of the city skyline reflected in the river. Sadly, the city has had “little traction in improving air quality,” according to the Texas Tribune. The city can further reduce pollution by strengthening regulations of coal plant emissions.

Related: Learn more about visiting Dallas, Texas.

27. Chattanooga, Tennessee
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Several bodies of water surround Chattanooga, including Chickamauga Lake and Nickajack Lake, which are part of the Tennessee River. Expansive bridges radiate out across rivers from its central downtown area. The city is home to the Chattanooga Choo Choo, a museum of railroad history and model trains. The city’s fleet of zero-emission electric buses provides transportation for commuters and visitors, but it could stand to expand this fleet to further improve air quality.

Related: Learn more about visiting Chattanooga, Tennessee.

26. Knoxville, Tennessee
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Knoxville is a city full of history and culture, with Civil War history at Fort Dickerson and country music landmarks featuring Hank Williams, Dolly Parton and the Everly Brothers. Unfortunately, Knoxville’s valley geography makes it a difficult place to improve air quality. But the city is headed in the right direction and has reduced emissions in the past decade by increasing regulation for local power plants like Bull Run, Sevier and Kingston.

Related: Learn more about visiting Knoxville, Tennessee.

25. Little Rock, Arkansas
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Little Rock is a Midwestern town situated on the banks of the Arkansas River and serves as the capital of Arkansas. And there’s no shortage of trees or natural beauty -- the edge of the city is nestled in foothills of the Ouachita Mountains. Its state capitol building is a replica of the White House and was built with Arkansas granite and features Tiffany chandeliers and a dome with a 24-karat gold-plated cupola. But investing in advertising to encourage commuter rideshares would reduce emissions and improve air quality.

Related: Learn more about visiting Little Rock, Arkansas.

24. McAllen, Texas
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McAllen is situated on the Rio Grande River just across the border from Reynosa, Mexico. The city was historically a small agricultural center but is now one of the fastest-growing areas in the United States. With that population boom also comes pollution, and the city’s infrastructure and government isn’t equipped to keep up with the rapid growth. McAllen can improve air quality by strengthening regulations on agricultural and manufacturing emissions.

Related: Learn more about visiting McAllen, Texas.

23. Memphis, Tennessee
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Contained within the “Birthplace of Rock and Roll” is a gorgeous downtown with cobblestone streets lined with high-rises. The Mississippi River snakes through the city, which has a long history of noteworthy events, such as the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The reverend was shot at the Lorraine Motel shortly after his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech at Mason Temple in 1968. Many musicians got their start in Memphis, including Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters and Al Green. The city’s rich history should be preserved and free of pollution. Memphis can improve its air quality by further developing the Memphis Area Transit Authority routes to reduce reliance on automobile transportation.

Related: Learn more about visiting Memphis, Tennessee.

22. San Diego, California
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San Diego’s hilly downtown area descends to its oceanfront boardwalk in a charming display of “city meets nature.” The city stretches north to the quaint surfing town of Encinitas and south to the border of Mexico. Following this year’s wildfires, San Diego’s pollution problems have gone from bad to worse. The American Lung Association’s Debra Kelley advises San Diegans to “create more communities where walking and biking are encouraged.” She continued by saying, “More public transportation would help too.”

Related: Learn more about visiting San Diego, California.

21. Stockton, California
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It would seem that Stockton is a prosperous and booming city. As a port city located in the rich farmland of central California’s San Joaquin Valley, the city has access to thousands of miles of rivers and waterways that comprise the California Delta. Its fertile valley provides no shortage of farms, fruit stands and wineries -- the nearby Lodi Wine Appellation has more than 85 vineyards. While Stockton may be a significant contributor to California’s gross domestic product, Forbes titled Stockton “One of America’s Most Miserable Cities” and highlighted issues such as the city’s mismanaged fiscal problems, recent filing for bankruptcy and “leadership vacuum.” However, it seems that Stockton is working on addressing the issues. Last year, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District “announced more than $21 million in Diesel Emissions Reduction Act funding to California that will stand to improve air quality and generate significant public health benefits, especially to the San Joaquin Valley. The cleaner diesel projects will fund cleaner locomotives, school buses, trucks, ships and agriculture irrigation pumps throughout California.”

Related: Learn more about visiting Stockton, California.

20. Atlanta, Georgia
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The birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr., Atlanta, is a busy metropolis with a large number of skyscrapers. Its dome-topped Georgia State Capitol building was constructed in 1889, and its metropolitan area is the eighth-largest economy in America and 17th-largest in the world. It’s also home to the global headquarters for The Coca-Cola Company, UPS, Home Depot, AT&T and Newell-Rubbermaid. So it’s no wonder that pollution is a problem in such a populated area. Michael Halicki of the Clean Air Campaign advises Atlanta residents to “run errands consecutively instead of separately…and skip the drive-through.”

Related: Learn more about visiting Atlanta, Georgia.

19. Las Vegas, Nevada
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The playground of Las Vegas beckons with neon lights glittering along the downtown area known as The Strip, and themed casinos -- the pyramid-shaped Luxor, the Roman-inspired Caesars Palace and the Italian stone-fabricated Venetian -- mimic the whimsy of Disneyland for adults. It’s no surprise, then, that Las Vegas uses megawatts of electricity and maintains a pretty large carbon footprint. Nevada has actively responded to its designation for poor air quality by promoting mass transit and creating regulatory programs for power plants. But to take it one step further, the city should encourage tourists to use mass transit.

Related: Learn more about visiting Las Vegas, Nevada.

18. Ogden, Utah
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Nestled in the Wasatch Mountains, Ogden is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy hiking, biking, skiing and snowboarding. Although the Utah Department of Transportation advises against driving on days with high pollution, residents rarely follow this advice, according to The Salt Lake Tribune, most likely due to the fact that there are no laws in place to prevent driving during high-pollution days. The local government consistently chooses commerce over air quality. “Governor Herbert’s own DEQ Air Quality Board, assigned the undeniable task of protecting the public from harmful air pollution, has handed out a massive permit increase to Kennecott Utah Copper, the single largest source of air pollution in the state, in addition to doling out expansions for Tesoro and Holly oil refineries,” reports EnviroNews. Improving air quality in Utah begins with politicians.

Related: Learn more about visiting Ogden, Utah.

17. Tulsa, Oklahoma
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Downtown Tulsa is home to a mixture of modern skyscrapers and historic buildings. Boutiques, pubs and nightlife venues clamor for attention in the historic Blue Dome District. The Blue Dome itself is a 1920s Gulf Oil station refurbished into a restaurant. A park with paved hiking and biking trails winds along the Arkansas River and gives way to the lush 300-acre Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area. For visitors and residents to enjoy Tulsa’s opulent outdoor parks and reduce pollution, it’s recommended that residents replace wood stoves with EPA-certified stoves and further reduce emissions. The City of Tulsa has already implemented measures to reduce pollution, such as setting up an education program for the public, commercial business owners and industrial companies.

Related: Learn more about visiting Tulsa, Oklahoma.

16. Cleveland, Ohio
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Cleveland’s picturesque downtown is situated on the banks of Lake Erie in northern Ohio. The city is known for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a robust economy owing to diverse industries such as manufacturing, financial services, biomedical and health care. All of this has left Cleveland polluted. The Ohio EPA says, “We want to keep our environment clean, but we enjoy modern conveniences that create pollution, like air emissions from electric plants and automobiles and hazardous waste like leftover paint and cleaning chemicals.” Many coal plants in the area support the economy, and the state is currently considering how to reduce coal plant emissions while maintaining profitability.

Related: Learn more about visiting Cleveland, Ohio.

15. Dayton, Ohio
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Dayton is home to a large military community, the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Dayton has been put on the map for innovation and invention because many patents and inventors got their start there, including the Wright brothers’ invention of propulsion aircraft. The city remains a hub of aerospace technology, manufacturing and agriculture. This is due in part to Dayton’s pollution problems. Dayton can reduce these issues by passing strict emissions laws and regulating chemical fertilizers, manure and agricultural waste -- all of which can flow into its streams and rivers.

Related: Learn more about visiting Dayton, Ohio.

14. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
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As Pennsylvania’s capital, Harrisburg is a manufacturing powerhouse. The steel, coal and food industries are booming in the city, along with the nearby Hershey’s chocolate manufacturing center. Harrisburg is sadly known for the Three Mile Island accident, a partial nuclear meltdown in 1979 that was the worst accident in American nuclear history. The toxic problems continue, as the city is often covered in brown-tinged smog. Local news site PennLive says of the issues, “Much of the area’s problem is attributed to its high concentration of trucking businesses and the presence of Interstate 81 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the traffic they bring. There’s also a coal-fired power plant near York Haven in York County. Local experts have also said the region is greatly impacted by power plants in other areas.” It seems that regulating the manufacturing industry is key to improving Harrisburg’s air quality.

Related: Learn more about visiting Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

13. Cincinnati, Ohio
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Cincinnati is situated on the Ohio River in southwest Ohio and is home to a vibrant downtown culture. There is no shortage of restaurants, sports stadiums, casinos, music halls and entertainment venues. It’s also home to The Banks, a newly constructed entertainment district on the banks of the Ohio. President Obama’s climate-change initiative calls for increased regulation of coal-fired power plants and would necessitate that Cincinnati’s plants “achieve a 28 percent reduction in carbon emissions per megawatt hour by 2030.” Ohio recently filed a lawsuit to sue the EPA over these regulations.

Related: Learn more about visiting Cincinnati, Ohio.

12. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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Today, Philadelphia is known for its food manufacturing -- Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Philly cheesesteak sandwiches are popular exports. Historically, it played a major role in the American Revolution: The Founding Fathers met in Philadelphia to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1787. The city is rich in history as well as greenery. The gorgeous Fairmount Park is the largest landscaped urban park in the world. But to improve air quality, Joyce Epps of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Air Quality recommends “the retirement, deactivation or shutdown of certain coal-fired power plants.”

Related: Learn more about visiting Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

11. Birmingham, Alabama
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Birmingham was founded in 1871 as a center for railroad transportation and mining. Little has changed -- coal mining and manufacturing remain central to the city’s economy. Birmingham’s picturesque skyline rises to views of the Appalachian Mountains in the distance. Birmingham boasts more green space per capita than any other American city and is home to the 19-acre Railroad Park with lakefront biking trails, sculptured gardens and fountains. This wealth of natural beauty should be protected, and the city’s active Metropolitan Planning Organization is taking good measures toward this initiative by planning to improve public transportation, maintain strict emissions standards and promote rideshares.

Related: Learn more about visiting Birmingham, Alabama.

10. Indianapolis, Indiana
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Indiana’s capital city is known for sporting events, such as the annual Indianapolis 500, the NHRA U.S. Nationals, the Big Ten Conference football championship and the NCAA basketball tournament. Forbes ranked the city as one of the nation’s best downtown areas, lauding the Fountain Square district for its “growing and productive bohemian vibe that is a big part of the city’s identity…. There are a number of well-regarded universities within the city and its surrounding areas that help instill downtown with a young and active character.” It’s no surprise that pollution is a problem in Indianapolis, as it’s a locus for manufacturing and industry and a distribution center for companies like Target, FedEx Express, Amazon and CVS. The key to reducing particle pollution in Indianapolis involves passing laws regulating power plant pollution.

Related: Learn more about visiting Indianapolis, Indiana.

9. Los Angeles, California
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Los Angeles: the City of Angels -- home to Hollywood, the Walk of Fame and Universal Studios. The city’s history in the entertainment industry is a well known. What many people don’t know about Los Angeles, however, is that it had a robust streetcar and public transportation system in the 1940s. The city was swindled during the “great American streetcar scandal,” in which a shell company made up of General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil and other corporate interests purchased existing streetcar systems and converted them into bus operations. It is surmised that the companies had forecasted a growing population and realized that a great deal of money could be made on oil and tires if Los Angeles remained dependent on oil -- and that it has.

Related: Learn more about visiting Los Angeles, California.

8. Louisville, Kentucky
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Louisville, one of the oldest American cities west of the Appalachian Mountains and situated adjacent to the Falls of the Ohio River rapids, is home to the Kentucky Derby and headquarters of Kentucky Fried Chicken. The city was originally named for King Louis XIV of France because his soldiers assisted Americans during the Revolutionary War. The city has more than 120 parks and the nation’s largest urban forest. About one third of the country’s bourbon is manufactured in Louisville. While the liquor-derived economic boon is certain, manufacturing taxes the ecology of the area. How can the city improve air quality? According to Louisville’s Courier-Journal, “Louisville needs a strong regulatory agency to lead the way. Whether [they] have one, however, remains uncertain. The Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control District was rocked last year by state and federal audits that found its air-monitoring data could not be trusted.”

Related: Learn more about visiting Louisville, Kentucky.

7. St. Louis, Missouri
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St. Louis is famous for its Gateway Arch, the 630-foot feat of engineering comprised of steel. It’s the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere, not to mention Missouri’s tallest accessible building. The arch commemorates the location of the city’s founding on the Mississippi River in 1764. St. Louis hosts festive events throughout the year, such as September’s Great Forest Park Balloon Race, where rainbow-hued hot air balloons compete for prizes amidst fireworks and skydivers (but not at the same time). Despite all the festivity, St. Louis has a history of difficult pollution dating back to the coal mining of the 1930s. Missouri would do well to draft laws to inhibit manufacturing and promote commuting, thereby reducing pollutants and emissions.

Related: Learn more about visiting St. Louis, Missouri.

6. Allentown, Pennsylvania
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Allentown is home to a wealth of American history, hosting numerous museums and attractions. There are plenty of parks and even a disc golf course on the Lehigh Parkway, biking trails at Trexler Park and meadows and canal parks. Allentown is located in a valley within 100 miles of both Philadelphia and New York City, making pollution a persistent problem. Local Allentown newspaper The Morning Call advocates bicycle use and cutting down on single-occupancy vehicle commuters to reduce pollution.

Related: Learn more about visiting Allentown, Pennsylvania.

5. Phoenix, Arizona
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As with many of the aforementioned cities, Phoenix’s geography is detrimental to the city’s air quality. The central valley forms a concave region that traps pollutants. Although the city is surrounded by the natural beauty of the mountains and desert landscapes with blooming saguaro, poor air quality discourages enjoyment of that splendor. At dusk, the Cholla Trail on Camelback Mountain features sweeping views of the glittering valley to one side and the Scottsdale foothills on another -- if you can see past the pollution. The city currently displays large signs above freeways reading, “HIGH POLLUTION ADVISORY. CARPOOL -- USE BUS,” but more proactive steps are necessary for air-quality improvement. Phoenix can improve air quality by further developing public transportation to support its growing population.

Related: Learn more about visiting Phoenix, Arizona.

4. Fresno, California
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Fresno is known as the “Asthma Capital of California.” Along with Bakersfield and Modesto, the city’s Central Valley geography makes pollution an ongoing problem. Tourists often pass through the city on their way to Yosemite to enjoy attractions such as the 4.5-acre historical Forestiere Underground Gardens reminiscent of catacombs. While the city’s natural beauty is augmented by its proximity to famous natural parks, air quality remains a threat. It seems that there’s little that Fresno can do to improve air quality, unless the city is willing to shell out advertising dollars promoting car shares and burn bans during the drought months.

Related: Learn more about visiting Fresno, California.

3. Modesto, California
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Despite Modesto’s motto claiming it as the city of “water, wealth, contentment and health,” the city’s San Joaquin Valley location creates environmental challenges because pollutants stagnate between its surrounding mountains. While there’s no shortage of things to do in Modesto -- golf courses, public parks, antique malls and museums abound -- the lack of clean air puts a damper on these outdoor activities. Modesto also inspired the film “American Graffiti” and hosts an annual “American Graffiti” car show. But because Modesto is beset with geographical and weather-related challenges, there’s little strategy available to improve air quality. According to the Huffington Post, “Air-pollution officials say the technology doesn’t yet exist to lessen the valley’s pollution and bring the region into compliance, though the district is investing in research and giving grants for things such as the new generation of battery-powered leaf blowers and lawn mowers.”

Related: Learn more about visiting Modesto, California.

2. Bakersfield, California
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Bakersfield is situated in California’s Central Valley area just south of the pristine Sierra Nevada Mountain range near Breckenridge Mountain Ski Resort. The area contributes greatly to California’s economy -- it generates 76 percent of the state’s oil supply as well as a large amount of agriculture. The Hart Memorial Park features a family of peacocks roaming in vibrant display and hosts outdoor music events each Thursday. However, the geography of Bakersfield makes keeping the air free of pollutants a challenge because its valley “creates a bowl that traps air pollution,” reports Time magazine. According to a press release from the Sierra Club, Bakersfield can further improve air quality by reducing pollution and passing laws to discourage “a polluting, publicly subsidized, coal-fueled fertilizer and chemical plant.”

Related: Learn more about visiting Bakersfield, California.

1. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
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With miles of riverfront trails, Pittsburgh residents and visitors enjoy running and walking along the city’s Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. These converge near central downtown at Point State Park, a gorgeous spot to take in the reflections of the high-rise buildings’ lights on the water at sunset. Pittsburgh can improve air quality by implementing more sustainable buildings, such as the Phipps Conservatory Center for Sustainable Landscapes, one of the world’s first with a Living Building Certification. The city can also draft laws on power plant emissions, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported earlier this year that “a review by the Sierra Club and the Clean Air Council earlier this month found that the draft power plant emissions rule…is up to four times weaker than similar rules in the surrounding states of Delaware, New York and Maryland.”

Related: Learn more about visiting Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

What Do YOU Think?
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Do you live in one of these cities? What do you do to stay active while avoiding the poor air quality? What have you noticed your city do to improve conditions, and what would you like to see them do? Make sure you check out the best 50 cities ranked by air quality, too.

Related: The 50 Best Cities Ranked by Air Quality

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