lungs being constricted by pollution being produced from the city beneath it

Do You Live in an Air Pollution Capital of the USA?

If you have asthma, you understand that air pollution and the quality of air you breathe is important. Some individuals feel their lungs immediately constrict around cigarette smoke or fragrance infused air. Others notice immediately if the air temperature becomes cold or hot. How do you feel when you visit other cities, or when you leave your own?

Asthma and air pollution

The air quality of cities throughout the U.S. can drastically vary. Even if you avoid your typical asthma triggers, you might find that simply walking through certain cities can exacerbate your asthma due to air pollution. This can be harmful to anyone’s lungs and can be especially harmful to those with asthma.

What exactly is air pollution?

There are several components to what creates poor air quality: ozone, year-round particle pollution, and short-term particle pollution.

What is ozone?

Good ozone is a gas that forms a protective layer around the ground level and upper atmosphere of Earth. It is considered “good” because it protects us from the sun’s strong ultraviolet rays. On the other hand, “bad” ozone is formed from the mixture of vehicle exhaust, refineries, and chemical plants.1 Think of the brownish layer of smog that hazes over big cities such as Los Angeles or New York.

What is particle pollution?

Particle pollution refers to microparticles or flecks of liquid that float about in the air. These particles can emit from diesel exhaust, wildfires, wood-burning stoves, mining operations, agriculture, and many more sources. Most of the time you can’t see individual particles, but see a haze in the air. Short term particle pollution refers to a sudden spike in the number of particles present in the air; something like a wildfire would cause this spike.

Annual particle pollution can affect asthma and consists of the same type of particles but takes into account the entire year of the number of particles during the year. Cities that have industries such as agriculture, coal, manufacturing, mining, and transportation are those that have the potential to have poor air quality.2

The top 5 most air-polluted cities

All of this being said, the American Lung Association has separated the worst air pollution in the USA by those three types of pollution.3 Drumroll...the top 5 in each category of pollution in America are:

Ozone pollution

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

Short term particle pollution:

  1. Fresno-Madera-Hanford, CA
  2. Bakersfield, CA
  3. Fairbanks, AK
  4. Visalia, CA
  5. Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA

Year-round particle pollution

  1. Bakersfield, CA
  2. Fresno-Madera-Hanford, CA
  3. Fairbanks, AK
  4. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA
  5. Missoula, MT

What does this mean?

If you look at these top 5 cities, you’ll notice most are in California. Bakersfield makes it high on each list, and this is due to the combination of industries that are active here. This city is agriculture intensive, home to oil extraction, and a hub for cross country transport of products by diesel-fueled trucks. Bakersfield also lies in a valley, so some of the pollution from Los Angeles and San Bernadino counties settles over the area.

Let’s examine some other cities. Los Angeles, Long Beach, Sacramento, San Jose, and San Franciso all house large populations. With a large population comes a large amount of vehicles and other modes of transportation. Each of these cities also contains a large airport. California has consistent warm weather with little rain, which keeps pollutants “trapped” and close to ground level. These factors, combined with the variety of particle emitting industries, contribute to the poor air quality.

What if you can’t move?

Let’s be honest; moving is a major pain in the behind. Throwing all of your possessions in boxes and moving to another city immediately is unrealistic. You might live near family, or you may have children that love the school they attend. Moving is expensive and timely. Even if the environment you live in is harmful to your asthma, moving may not be an option.

Moving may be totally out of the question, but luckily they are some things you can do to mitigate the effects of air pollutants in your city. If you’re like most North Americans, then you probably spend 90% of your time indoors.4 If this is accurate for you, then it would be wise to focus on improving the indoor air of your home. Investing in an air purifier may be a wise next step!

As for walking around in a city with high levels of air pollution while living with asthma, here is a great article that details tips to manage poor air conditions. Be sure to regularly check air quality conditions, and stay inside when it is poor. Think about pre-medicating before stepping outside, and take your inhaler with you.

Do you live in a city with good or poor air quality? How do you manage your asthma in areas with air pollution and poor air quality?

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