If you’re thinking about taking a vacation or permanently relocating, you research weather, attractions and the price of accommodations. But have you ever considered which US cities have the cleanest air? People in good respiratory health may not plan a trip around air quality, but for Americans traveling with asthma or COPD, air pollution could equal a ruined respite.
The American Lung Association releases a yearly report called State of the Air, which shows how US cities measure up when it comes to air pollution. The major factors taken into consideration are:
When gases like nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide are released into the atmosphere (usually from burning fossil fuels) they can react to form ozone. While ozone in the stratosphere protects the planet by absorbing UV rays from the sun, ozone near the Earth’s surface creates what we call smog.
2. Particle Pollution
A mixture of very small liquid and solid particles released into the air by both mechanical and chemical processes, particle pollution comes from things like construction, road traffic, and burning fuels in factories and power plants. The American Lung Association factors both year-round and short-term particle pollution into its annual reports.
Both ozone smog and particle pollution can have negative impacts on health:
- Ozone increases respiratory symptoms in people with asthma and COPD, and has been linked to an increased risk of cardiac events.
- Exposure to particle pollution has been found to cause early death, and may be linked to lung cancer and developmental harm in infants and children.
5 US Cities with the Cleanest Air
In their 2018 State of the Air report, five cities ranked on all three “cleanest” lists for pollution from ozone, high particle pollution days, and year-round particle levels. For people with a respiratory illness, this list may give a new set of criteria to consider when looking for a vacation destination or new place to call home.
1. Bellingham, WA
Despite one of the country’s most polluted urban centers being nearby, Washington’s large northern town has some of the cleanest air. Bellingham’s laid-back vibe is perfect for people who are looking for a mixture of city amenities and opportunity for outdoor adventure.
A booming brewery scene has seen 15 different locations crop up in and around the city. With most located in the downtown core, you can move between them with a handy Tap Trail map to guide you. If you’re a dedicated taps tourist, plan to visit during Bellingham Beer Week in April.
For trips that aren’t all about knocking back pints, travellers can visit Whatcom Falls Park in the city limits or nearby Chuckanut Mountain and Lummi Island. Bellingham makes an excellent jumping-off point for visits to the San Juan Islands, where whale watching and kayaking are must-do activities.
2. Burlington-South Burlington, VT
Vermont’s most populous city, Burlington sits on the edge of Lake Champlain just an hour’s drive from the Canadian border. Accentuated by the red brick buildings of downtown and the University of Vermont campus, Burlington has a historical-looking aesthetic that nicely complements its growing reputation as a hip, modern city.
Surrounded by an abundance of natural beauty, a visit to Burlington can be spent strolling and exploring the many beaches bordering the lake. If city life is more your speed, you can spend the day wandering Church Street Marketplace to shop local vendors, enjoy a festival, or people-watch amidst the bustle. Ranking as one of America’s cleanest cities means visitors can breathe easy while they enjoy both the city and nature that Burlington has to offer.
How did Burlington come to have some of the cleanest air in America? Decades of commitment from politicians at the municipal level (including four-term mayor Bernie Sanders) turned the former manufacturing center into a world leader in clean energy. Burlington draws power from a hydroelectric dam, wind turbines, solar panels and a generating station fueled primarily by wood from logging residue.
3. Wilmington, NC
A vibrant port city on North Carolina’s east coast, Wilmington takes full advantage of its prime location with a mile-long Riverwalk that’s been pleasing residents and visitors for decades.
The well-preserved historic district features antebellum architecture, cobblestone roads and an abundance of shops, theatres, and restaurants. Visitors looking for a unique historical experience can tour the USS North Carolina, a WWII battleship permanently moored in the Cape Fear River across from downtown Wilmington.
This year represents Wilmington’s second time ranking among the US cities with the cleanest air. Initiatives like 2002’s Clean Smokestacks Act and higher vehicle emission standards have been credited with cleaning up the air in Wilmington and the rest of North Carolina.
4. Honolulu, HI
As if you needed another reason to visit the Aloha State, its biggest city consistently ranks among America’s cleanest in terms of both ozone and particulate pollution. Despite being Hawaii’s largest urban center, lack of surrounding heavy industry keeps Honolulu’s air clean. It’s the perfect destination for travelers looking for sun, surf, and city amenities.
While it’s easy to assume that all Hawaiian air would be less polluted thanks to its ocean surroundings, some parts of the state feature a very specific type of pollution. As an active volcano, the Big Island’s Mount Kilauea emits gases that react with the atmosphere to create volcanic smog. This naturally occurring pollutant can cause breathing difficult for residents and visitors with respiratory illness.
5. Palm Bay–Melbourne–Titusville, FL
Located on Florida’s east coast almost exactly between Miami and Jacksonville, this region of Brevard County is a more low-key option for people looking to relocate or vacation in the coastline-rich state.
Despite its sprawling shoreline full of white sand beaches, the region is probably best known as the “Space Coast”, where both the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station are housed.
Making travel possible
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