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Which State Has The Best Air Quality

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Arizona’s Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale metro area has the worst air quality in the country. In 2021, the region experienced unhealthy air quality on 64.9% of days, while it had good air quality only 3% of the time.

In contrast, three US metros: Urban Honolulu and Kahului, both in Hawaii, and Lake Havasu City/Kingman, in Arizona, had healthy air quality on more than 99% of days in 2021.

Air quality scores are determined by an area’s air quality index (AQI). A higher AQI means the air has more pollutants and is less healthy. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses AQI ranges to rate air quality from good to hazardous.[1]

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Good air quality days are relatively common nationally. About 75% of all metro areas in the US had good air quality for at least two-thirds of 2021. And 90% had good air quality on more than half of the days that year.

In a few metro areas, however, good air quality days are few and far between. In Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, California and the greater Phoenix metro area, less than 10% of days have an AQI in the “good” range.

While good air quality is common across the country, unhealthy air quality is concentrated in the western and southwestern US. In 2021, 11 cities had unhealthy air quality more than 10% of the year. Of those 11, eight were in California, with the rest in Arizona, Colorado and Utah.

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Four metro areas had multiple dangerous air days: Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade. El Centro? and Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, in California. With hazardous air quality, the entire population is likely to be affected by “severe health effects,” including reduced lung function and heart failure in extreme cases.

How To Use The Air Quality Index

Median AQI is another way of comparing air quality — it reflects an average day of air quality in a location. The results tell a similar story with good and bad AQI days.

Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest have metro areas with the best average AQI. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale is the only area with an average AQI in the “unhealthy” range, at 123. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario; Bakersfield? and Visalia-Porterville, all in California, have the next worst average air quality AQI.

EPA has air quality data from 336 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). Each of these MSAs has air quality monitoring stations that report data an average of 349 days per year. These stations measure the presence of all pollutants: CO, Pb, NO2, Ozone, PM10, PM2.5 and SO2. Together, these pollutant measurements form an air quality indicator.

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What Is The Air Quality Index? Here’s How To Stay Safe

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These designations are based on the air quality index (AQI) which indicates the number of pollutants in the air. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, an AQI of less than 50 is considered “good,” an AQI of 51–100 is “moderate,” and 101–150 is “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

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Forty-three states and Washington, DC, have a healthy average AQI. Hawaii is the best (24.2), followed by Alaska (27.9) and Maine (34.8). Arizona is the only state with an unhealthy average AQI, at 101.8. Nationally, the average AQI was 48.6 in 2021.

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However, air quality within states can vary greatly. Arizona’s poor air quality can be attributed to deteriorating air quality in Maricopa County, which has both the nation’s fastest growing population and the fewest days of good air quality. Maricopa County had good air quality on only 4% of days in 2021 (up from 25% in 1980). Poor air quality in California is mostly concentrated in Southern California and the Central Valley.

Air quality is affected by emissions of nitrogen oxides from industrial plants and vehicles, as well as particulate matter such as smoke or dust from vehicles, factories and fires.

In contrast, most of the country has good air quality most days. About 96% of counties had good air quality for more than half the days in 2021.

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National air quality has improved in recent decades due to federal and state regulations on vehicles and factories. Since 1985, the national average AQI has improved by 23.5 points. Only eight states have seen air quality deteriorate since then, notably North Dakota, Wyoming and Arizona.

Air quality monitoring stations across the country take readings most days throughout the year. The county map below, which includes measurements only from counties with quality monitors, highlights the underlying difficulties with measuring air quality in a state. Some states, such as Nebraska, have fewer than 10 air quality monitoring stations to cover the state’s 93 counties. On average, each county has data for 325 days a year, but this number can be much lower. Of the country’s more than 3,143 prefectures, 990 had air quality measurements and 921 of them had measurements for at least 200 days a year.

To obtain the population-weighted AQI, the average air quality for the year in each highlighted county is calculated. These figures are then weighted according to the population of the county. Counties without data are not included in this count.

The AQI is population weighted to better represent the experience of the average state resident. In Arizona, 62% of the population lives in Maricopa County, so Maricopa County’s AQI has a huge impact on the state’s AQI.

The Worst U.s. States For Air Quality

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As an experienced content producer and editor, James makes sure our content is always engaging, clear and useful. He also leads the production team and makes sure our writers have everything they need to keep doing their best work. On his days off, you’ll find him out hiking or looking for stone circles.

While air quality in the United States has improved significantly since 1970, air pollution still affects human health. It is the cause of about 100,000 premature deaths among Americans each year.

The differences in air quality are so stark that a difference of 100 miles can mean the difference between spending an average of 10 weeks a year in air deemed unhealthy by the EPA or none at all.

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Overall, air quality is worst in the West, where rapid urbanization and a hot, dry climate exacerbate pollution, and in the Midwest, where the legacies of heavy industrialization continue to affect the air we breathe today.

Humans take about 22,000 breaths every day, inhaling life-sustaining oxygen while taking in harmful pollutants from natural and man-made sources.

While most pollutants are invisible to the naked eye, their effects on human health are well documented. In several studies, a reduction of 10 micrograms per cubic meter of particulate matter was associated with an increase in life expectancy of about one year.

Because the county with the worst air quality in the United States has about 18 more micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter than the county with the cleanest air, where you live in the United States can significantly affect your health.

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There are over 2,000 outdoor ambient air monitors across the United States. These monitors measure concentrations of some of the most harmful pollutants, including respirable particulates, toxic gases and ozone.

To determine the states with the worst air quality, we ranked states based on the Air Quality Index (AQI), a composite index on a scale of 0 to 500 made up of six factors:

Using data from the US Environmental Protection Agency

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