The 6 Cleanest Metropolitan Areas in the United States


BrendelSignature via Wikipedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

If you want to breathe clean air, don’t go to Fresno-Madera, California. Or Los Angeles. Or any of the other most polluted cities in the United States. The American Lung Association has released their “State of the Air 2015” report card, a comprehensive guide to the cleanest and dirtiest air in the country. Rankings are based on the overall ozone pollution, and the average annual and short term (24 hours) particle pollution levels in every city (in this case, city refers to "all the counties that form the economic and transportation network that makes up the metropolitan area as defined by the federal government"). Measurements were taken by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency's Air Quality System over a three year period from 2011 to 2013. Once the data was compiled, cities’ pollution levels were charted on the Air Quality Index and compared to past findings.

So where do you go if you want to breathe in the cleanest air? Below, in order, are the six least polluted metropolitan areas in the country—which, according to the report, means that "they had no days when the air quality reached the unhealthy level for ozone or short-term particle pollution and they were on the list of the cleanest cities for year-round particle pollution"—along with some fun facts about each location.

1. Salinas, Calif.

Beating them all at number six for annual particle pollution levels, and matching them all at number one for short term and ozone pollution, Salinas (pictured above) is the only city in California to be listed among the least polluted cities in the country. John Steinbeck was born in Salinas in 1902. 

2. Bismarck, N.D.

Bobak Ha'Eri via Wikipedia Commons // CC-BY-SA-3.0

Ranked at 10 for cleanest annual particle pollution, and first for overall ozone and short term pollution, Bismarck is North Dakota's state capital. On February 17, 2007, 8962 people made snow angels on the capital's lawn, beating the previous world record and earning North Dakota the title of "snow angel capital of the world." North Dakota still holds the world record for most snow angels made in one place at one time. 

3. Rapid City-Spearfish, S.D. 

tochichi via Wikipedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Joining Bismarck at number 10 for annual rankings and at number one for short term and overall ozone cleanliness, Rapid City and Spearfish were both visited by miners during the 19th century Gold Rush. 

4. Cape Coral-Fort Myers-Naples, Fla.

Sanibel sun via Wikipedia Commons // Public Domain 

Coming in at number 13 for annual particle pollution, and at number one for short term and overall ozone pollution, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, and Naples, Florida are located north-west of Miami in Lee County. Every year, the Boston Red Sox host spring training at JetBlue park in Fort Myers. 

5. Elmira-Corning, N.Y. 

Doug Kerr via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Tying with Cape Coral at number 13, and at number one for overall ozone and short term pollution levels, the cities of Corning and Elmira are located along the Chemung River. During the Civil War, Elmira was home to a prisoner of war camp. From 1864 to 1865, it held 12,122 Confederate prisoners and civilians. 

6. Fargo-Wahpeton, N.D.-Minn. 

Unimatic1140 via Wikipedia Commons // Public Domain 

Lagging behind at number 19 for annual levels, but still number one for short term and overall ozone pollution, the cities of Fargo and Wahpeton lie on the border of North Dakota and Minnesota. If you search Fargo on Google, the first four results are for the 1996 film and the 2014 TV series.