Dark gray smoke billows out of factory stacks as the sun sets.

US metro areas with the worst air pollution

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November 28, 2022
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US metro areas with the worst air pollution

"The Crown" episode "Act of God" recreated for viewers the Great Smog of London, a catastrophic fog of polluted air that settled over the city in the winter of 1952. Sometimes called the Big Smoke, a dense cloud of coal-choked air turned day to night and killed thousands. An almost identical event had already occurred in 1948, in Donora, Pennsylvania. Home to the Donora Zinc Works, Donora was consumed by a dense smog filled with airborne pollutants released during zinc smelting. When the same unusual weather patterns that caused the disaster in Donora materialized in London, scientists knew what was coming but it was too late to act.

Following other tragedies in New York and the smoggiest day on record in Los Angeles, the U.S. government passed the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955—the predecessor of the Clean Air Acts. Nixon's administration established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 with the mission of enforcing regulations, collaborating with other organizations and sponsors, and educating the public about the hazards of pollution. The EPA has been successful in improving air quality in places like Donora.

Burning fossil fuels is the primary cause of both air pollution and climate change. In 2022, wildfires in the West—most of which were human-caused—were also culprits in the most polluted areas. Stacker compiled a list of the metro areas with the worst air pollution in the U.S. using the 2022 American Lung Association's State of the Air Report.

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Augusta downtown skyline on the Savannah River.
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#25 (tie). Augusta, Georgia

- Annual particle pollution: #25 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
- High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas

Shreveport downtown skyline over the river.
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#25 (tie). Shreveport, Louisiana

- Annual particle pollution: #25 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
- High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas

St. Louis downtown cityscape with the arch and courthouse at dusk.
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Sean Pavone // Shutterstock

#24. St. Louis

- Annual particle pollution: #24 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
- High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas

Chicago cityscape over the river in the afternoon.
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Sean Pavone // Shutterstock

#22 (tie). Chicago

- Annual particle pollution: #22 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
- High ozone days: #16 most polluted metropolitan area

Downtown Houston city skyline.
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Sean Pavone // Shutterstock

#22 (tie). Houston

- Annual particle pollution: #22 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
- High ozone days: #8 most polluted metropolitan area

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Downtown city center of Yakima.
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#21. Yakima, Washington

- Annual particle pollution: #21 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: #9 most polluted metropolitan area
- High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas

McAllen Convention Center at night.
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Arbo.lifestyle // Wikimedia Commons

#18 (tie). McAllen, Texas

- Annual particle pollution: #18 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
- High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas

D.C. at dusk.
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#18 (tie). Philadelphia

- Annual particle pollution: #18 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
- High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas

Eugene downtown cityscape and mountains in the afternoon.
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Sean Pavone // Shutterstock

#18 (tie). Eugene, Oregon

- Annual particle pollution: #18 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: #15 most polluted metropolitan area
- High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas

An upward shot of Detroit buildings.
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#16 (tie). Detroit

- Annual particle pollution: #16 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
- High ozone days: #24 most polluted metropolitan area

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Sacramento River in Redding.
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Cody Markhart // Shutterstock

#16 (tie). Redding, California

- Annual particle pollution: #16 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: #5 most polluted metropolitan area
- High ozone days: #23 most polluted metropolitan area

Aerial view of the Old Mill District in Bend.
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Ahturner // Shutterstock

#15. Bend, Oregon

- Annual particle pollution: #15 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
- High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas

Pittsburgh daytime downtown scene over the Allegheny River.
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#14. Pittsburgh

- Annual particle pollution: #14 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: #22 most polluted metropolitan area
- High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas

An Indianapolis riverwalk with buildings in the background.
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#13. Indianapolis

- Annual particle pollution: #13 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
- High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas

Cincinnati downtown in the evening.
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#12. Cincinnati

- Annual particle pollution: #12 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
- High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas

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High viewpoint of downtown Sacramento.
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#11. Sacramento, California

- Annual particle pollution: #11 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: #7 most polluted metropolitan area
- High ozone days: #9 most polluted metropolitan area

Hotel in El Centro.
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Cbl62 // Wikimedia Commons

#10. El Centro, California

- Annual particle pollution: #10 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: Not ranked in top 24 most polluted metropolitan areas
- High ozone days: #15 most polluted metropolitan area

Businesses in downtown Chico.
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MARELBU // Wikimedia Commons

#9. Chico, California

- Annual particle pollution: #9 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: #6 most polluted metropolitan area
- High ozone days: #20 most polluted metropolitan area

Downtown Phoenix at dusk.
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#8. Phoenix

- Annual particle pollution: #8 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: #11 most polluted metropolitan area
- High ozone days: #5 most polluted metropolitan area

Snow-covered streets in Fairbanks with buildings in the background.
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#7. Fairbanks, Alaska

- Annual particle pollution: #7 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: #3 most polluted metropolitan area
- High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas

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Medford view from Roxy Ann.
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#6. Medford, Oregon

- Annual particle pollution: #6 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: #21 most polluted metropolitan area
- High ozone days: Not ranked in top 25 most polluted metropolitan areas

A smoggy Los Angeles in the distance.
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#5. Los Angeles

- Annual particle pollution: #5 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: #8 most polluted metropolitan area
- High ozone days: #1 most polluted metropolitan area

Drone photo of sunset over downtown San Jose.
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Uladzik Kryhin // Shutterstock

#4. San Jose, California

- Annual particle pollution: #4 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: #4 most polluted metropolitan area
- High ozone days: #13 most polluted metropolitan area

 

Chukchansi Park in downtown Fresno.
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Matt Gush // Shutterstock

#2 (tie). Fresno, California

- Annual particle pollution: #2 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: #1 most polluted metropolitan area
- High ozone days: #4 most polluted metropolitan area

Aerial of downtown Visalia during spring.
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#2 (tie). Visalia, California

- Annual particle pollution: #2 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: #9 most polluted metropolitan area
- High ozone days: #3 most polluted metropolitan area

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A view of a suburban area of Bakersfield from a distance.
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#1. Bakersfield, California

- Annual particle pollution: #1 most polluted metropolitan area
- High 24-hour particle pollution days: #2 most polluted metropolitan area
- High ozone days: #2 most polluted metropolitan area

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