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Every year the American Lung Association releases its list of the cities with the cleanest air. We've not only got the list, but we also looked into what the top cities have in common, what the ALA says shouldn't be in your air, and we put together a list of things you can do if your city doesn't have the cleanest air.
The ALA's list is based mostly on two different types of air pollution measurements: Ozone Pollution and Particle Pollution.
Ozone, while incredibly important when high up in the atmosphere, is toxic when breathed in large amounts. Unfortunately, it can be the bi-product of a lot of our daily activities, including driving cars with gasoline engines. "High ozone days" occur when the atmospheric conditions are such that ozone is accumulating in your area, causing a health hazard. The ALA looked at measures of how many high ozone days a city had, and those with the lowest number scored the best.
Particle pollution is the mixture of very tiny (actually, a wide range from tiny to really, really tiny) particles in the air. These particles can be from liquids or solids and range from coarse at 10 microns to 2.5 microns (often called PM 10 or PM 2.5) all the way down to ultra-fine particles at .1 microns. For some perspective, consider that a single particle of sand is about 90 microns!
The ALA looked at both the number of days that a city had high particle counts as well as a broader view of the particle counts over a year.
Top Cities: Pick Your Poison
The top cities did not necessarily receive the highest marks in both categories, but typically they scored really well in one or the other. Even the top rated city, Prescott, AZ scored really well in particle pollution, but not nearly as well in ozone pollution. Since particle pollution can come from a wide variety of sources, both natural and man-made, your city may have pollution issues that are not what you immediately think of, including dust storms, bacterial issues, or even the particles left in the air by brake paid wear, or tire wear. No matter where you live, it still pays to be aware of your air!
You might be wondering just how bad the ozone or particle pollution can be for you. The bad news is that they both can be really bad for you, whether in the short term or the long term.
In the short term, ozone and particle pollution spikes can cause severe symptoms including death, especially among the elderly, the young and those with cardiovascular health issues. While asthma and coughing are obvious connections, not as obvious are the thousands of stroke and heart attack deaths that can be directly attributed to spikes in particle levels, whether the day of a spike or up to two months later.
The long term picture is not much rosier. Long term exposure to particle or ozone pollution has been demonstrated to kill or cause cancer. This has lead to the EPA's declaration that particle pollution poses "serious health effects".
Stay calm. You don't necessarily need to move to one of the top 10 cities to experience better air. Here's some simple things you can do.
Being aware is half the battle. AirNow.gov is a great resource for you to keep on top of what the air conditions are in your own city. Staying indoors, particularly if you are filtering your air, is great way to reduce your risks, especially on days when the pollution levels are highest.
Filter the air
Indoor air can be filtered in a number of different ways. We (of course!) recommend a great air purifier that targets your specific concerns, but you should also pay attention to your furnace and HVAC filters since they are your first line of defense. A few rules of thumb:
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Meet your air purifier: