Cancer, Anyone? The Most Polluted Regions in the Country

Two types of pollution put 44 percent of the U.S. population at high risk for premature death, cancer and breathing problems. Are you in danger?

Cancer, Anyone? The Most Polluted Regions in the Country Photo (cc) by steven.buss

For a breath of fresh air, avoid California.

The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2015” report shows the Golden State is home to the five most polluted metropolitan regions of the U.S. — regardless of whether the regions are ranked based on ozone gas pollution or particle pollution.

The report is based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data about the levels of both types of pollution from 2011 through 2013.

The good news is that, compared to the ALA’s 2014 report, fewer people live in regions where pollution levels are considered “dangerous” by the national nonprofit organization. The ALA credits the 1970 U.S. Clean Air Act for improvements in air quality in recent decades.

The bad news is that almost 44 percent of people in the U.S. still live in regions with dangerous pollution levels. That means almost 138.5 million people breathe air that “could shorten life or cause lung cancer.”

Janice Nolen, the ALA’s assistant vice president of national policy, tells CBS News:

Overall, we have made great improvements but we do know we are still facing challenges, especially challenges created by climate change and some of the impacts warmer climates have on creating more ozone and particle pollution…

We are not making as good of progress as we need to. We have a long ways to go.

Ozone gas, sometimes called “smog,” can lead to premature death and breathing problems such as shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and asthma attacks, the American Lung Association reports.

Particle pollution can increase one’s risk for heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks, and interfere with lung growth and lung function. Sources of this type of pollution include nitrate particles in vehicle exhaust (which plagues Southern California) and from sulfur dioxide emitted by large coal-fired power plants.

Most polluted regions

Based on year-round particle pollution

  1. Fresno-Madera, California
  2. Bakersfield, California
  3. Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, California
  4. Modesto-Merced, California
  5. Los Angeles-Long Beach, California

Based on ozone air pollution

  1. Los Angeles-Long Beach, California
  2. Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, California
  3. Bakersfield, California
  4. Fresno-Madera, California
  5. Sacramento-Roseville, California

Least polluted regions

Based on year-round particle pollution

  1. Prescott, Arizona
  2. Farmington, New Mexico
  3. Cheyenne, Wyoming
  4. Casper, Wyoming
  5. Flagstaff, Arizona

Based on ozone air pollution

  1. Bellingham, Washington
  2. Bend-Redmond-Prineville, Oregon
  3. Bismarck, North Dakota
  4. Blacksburg-Christiansburg-Radford, Virginia
  5. Brownsville-Harlingen-Raymondville, Texas

To look up pollution levels for your area, visit

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Karla Bowsher
Karla Bowsher
I’m a freelance journalist and former newspaper reporter who has covered both personal and public finance. I've worked for a top 50 major metro daily and a community newspaper as well as ... More

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