Take a deep breath. It feels good, right? The quality of the air you breathe every single day is invaluable to your health — so much that back in 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency created the Clean Air Act as a means of achieving cleaner, healthier air for both you and me, along with our environment. The National Ambient Air Quality Standards was created under the act to protect the public health and reduce the level of harmful emissions that result from nasty air pollutants.
Besides the very obvious industrial pollutants and carbon emissions from vehicles, climate change plays a major role in the air quality. While the country as a whole has improved in terms of ozone and year-round particle pollutants, nearly 39% of the population resides in areas of “unhealthful” levels of pollution.
Based on an analysis of data released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the following are considered the most polluted states America. The analysis measures the average daily fine particulate matter (ug/m3) in the air. We also looked at the rates of cancer in these states, per the CDC.
15. North Carolina
- Air pollution (ug/m3): 12.99
- Cancer diagnoses per 100,000 people: 448.8
From the Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks, North Carolina is home to over 10 million residents. The state’s growing population has contributed to some counties’ inability to meet the EPA’s ozone emissions. Clean Air Carolina advocates clean air initiatives in hopes of curbing the impact of industrialization and population growth on the air quality.
Next: Neighborly offenders
14. South Carolina
- Air pollution (ug/m3): 13.16
- Cancer diagnoses per 100,000 people: 433.3
Hilton Head Island, Charleston and Myrtle Beach are well known for their pristine coastlines and rich Southern culture. Despite all of this, South Carolina’s air pollution problem is not good. The majority of the counties in South Carolina received less than stellar grades on the air quality report card. This means a D average. Focus has been put on initiatives to improve the grades, but the state has a long way to go.
Next: The barbecue may be good, but the air is bad.
- Air pollution (ug/m3): 13.16
- Cancer diagnoses per 100,000 people: 462.1
Maybe it’s all that barbecue smoke emitting into the thick Mississippi air — or more likely the amount of industrialization along the shores of the Mississippi River. Mississippi ranks neck and neck with South Carolina when it comes to air quality. The long-standing industry-based coastal counties, such as Jackson and Harrison, received D ratings for high ozone days.
Next: The lovers state is hurting.
- Air pollution (ug/m3): 13.26
- Cancer diagnoses per 100,000 people: 416.5
The shock factor was high when 18 million pounds of toxic waste was dumped into the waterways of Virginia. The New, James, and Shenandoah rivers suffered the brunt of the pollution. With a mixture of both water and air pollution, it’s important to note that Virginia has worked to improve its air quality, but it’s not quite there yet.
Next: Can you guess how much this peach of a state is impacted by pollution?
- Air pollution (ug/m3): 13.3
- Cancer diagnoses per 100,000 people: 453.4
Atlanta is ranked second for the most pollution from vehicle emissions, and it’s not that hard to believe, considering the city is sprawled out and chock-full of traffic. The American Lung Association of Georgia says visits to the emergency room increased by 35% due to medical complications caused from bad air days. That’s cause for concern.
Next: This state has numerous cities that are at the most polluted.
- Air pollution (ug/m3): 13.35
- Cancer diagnoses per 100,000 people: 477.3
Pennsylvania’s cities are in a bad way. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Lancaster are ranked in the top most polluted cities in the nation. Senior Vice President of the American Lung Association Paul Billings expressed his concern in regard to the health impacts associated with the state’s high levels of pollution. Billings recognized that Philadelphia’s air quality has improved over the decades but noted the city still has a “ways to go until we get air that is truly safe and healthy to breathe.”
Next: This state has some bad grades.
- Air pollution (ug/m3): 13.38
- Cancer diagnoses per 100,000 people: 460.4
When it comes to Illinois, there are some pretty heavy hitters in terms of bad air quality. In the State of the Air report, three of its counties actually received an F grade. That translates to: “Your health is in jeopardy, and you might want to not live here.” The emissions come from tailpipes, smokestacks, and coal-fired power plants.
Next: Premature deaths in this state are higher than any other.
- Air pollution (ug/m3): 13.47
- Cancer diagnoses per 100,000 people: 439.5
There is no fooling Maryland residents about whether their state is full of pollutants. The Maryland Reporter published an article back 2013 regarding the amount of deaths associated with air pollution. It’s believed that for every 100,000 people, there will be 113 people who die in the state due to the air quality. That’s higher than any other state in the nation. Those numbers increase even more once you get into the city limits of Baltimore.
Next: This district got an F for effort.
7. Washington, D.C.
- Air pollution (ug/m3): 13.58
- Cancer diagnoses per 100,000 people: 442.4
There is a bit of irony in the fact that the District of Columbia, though not an official state, received an F on its State of the Air 2017 report card. The number of orange ozone days are down from the previous report; however, the state is still having 10 per year.
Next: Pollution is everywhere.
6. West Virginia
- Air pollution (ug/m3): 13.76
- Cancer diagnoses per 100,000 people: 461
There are a host of issues going on in West Virginia when it comes to pollution. Between the state’s water supply and the air pollution, it’s not so great. Wierton, West Virginia, is one of the most polluted in the nation. The amount of mercury and air toxins coming from power plants in the state raised enough concern that the EPA established what’s now called the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. The goal of these standards is to decrease these toxins seeping into the air that were leading to both health complications and premature deaths.
Next: We’re going back down to the Deep South.
- Air pollution (ug/m3): 13.95
- Cancer diagnoses per 100,000 people: 437.9
The majority of Alabama’s air pollution is coming from both paper production companies and coal- and oil-fired power plants. Paper product production is responsible for 42% of the state’s air pollution, while electricity production is responsible for 40%. Mercury pollution from Alabama makes up 4% of the total mercury pollution for the entire country and 3% of the total U.S. toxic pollution.
Next: This power company needs to check itself.
- Air pollution (ug/m3): 14.02
- Cancer diagnoses per 100,000 people: 445.7
Good ole Rocky Top! The state’s greatest offender of air pollution is the Tennessee Valley Authority. The company collectively emits around 9 million pounds of toxic air pollution. In fact, one of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s plants — Gallatin Fossil Plant — was sued by two different parties for allowing toxic chemicals to seep out of its disposal ponds.
Next: It just keeps getting worse.
- Air pollution (ug/m3): 14.1
- Cancer diagnoses per 100,000 people: 513.7
Kentucky ranks at the top of its class for toxic pollution production from power plants. The state is oozing with over 31 million pounds of pollution from electricity generation. The state also holds the title for having one of highest cancer diagnoses rates of any state in the union. Perhaps there is some correlation there.
Next: This state contributes 12% of the total toxic pollution from power plants.
- Air pollution (ug/m3): 14.23
- Cancer diagnoses per 100,000 people: 452.1
The seriousness of Ohio’s air pollution impacts continue to grow. In 2015, it’s estimated there were 2,130 premature deaths and $18 million in health burdens due to the state’s air pollution. Power plants alone are producing over 44 million pounds of toxic pollution, which contribute 12% toward total toxic pollution from power plants in the U.S.
Next: This is the top offender.
- Air pollution (ug/m3): 14.36
- Cancer diagnoses per 100,000 people: 435.8
Considered one of the nation’s super polluters, Indiana coal-powered power plants are producing over 40 million pounds of toxic pollution into the air. Over 19,000 children in the state have asthma attacks, resulting in over 14,000 lost school days in the state. To make a bad situation even worse, wildlife is also being negatively affected by the pollutants.
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