17 Cities With the Cleanest Air

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17 Cities With the Cleanest Air

Who has the cleanest air?

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.

  • #10 Bismarck, ND
  • #10 Anchorage, AK
  • #10 Spearfish-Rapid City, SD
  • #6 Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, HI
  • #6 Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL
  • #6 Salinas, CA
  • #6 Duluth MN-WI
  • #5 Flagstaff, AZ
  • #3 Casper, WY
  • #3 Cheyenne, WY
  • #2 Farmington, New Mexico
  • #1 Prescott, AZ

Mountains with clean air

What the top cities have in common

The ALA's list is based mostly on two different types of air pollution measurements: Ozone Pollution and Particle Pollution.

Ozone 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

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!

Polluted Air

So, how bad can it be?

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".

Panic Button

Uh-oh. We're not on the clean list.

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:

  1. Run your air purifier 24/7
  2. Choose a filter that targets your needs
  3. Change the filter regularly

Multiple cities tied for various spots in the one-to-ten ranking system. Ranks 4, 7, 8 and 9 are omitted from the list for this reason.

#1. Prescott, AZ (Population: 40,590)
Located in the beautiful Yavapai County, Prescott offers an abundance of natural reserves and is considered one of the top emerging metropolitan cities. Prescott is known predominantly for its classic old-west history and is a favorable tourist destination.

#2. Farmington, NM (Population: 45,426)
A popular location for recreational activities and families, Farmington is a growing city full of culture, food and museums. Farmington is also the commercial powerhouse of the Four Corners and offers a variety of shopping opportunities.

#3. Cheyenne, WY (Population: 62,448)
Cheyenne is the capital of Wyoming and has the largest population in the state. Cheyenne, also known as “The Magic City of the Plains,” includes attractions such as the Cheyenne Symphony Orchestra, a transportation museum, and tons of recreational and concert events during the summer months.

#3. Casper, WY (Population: 59,628)
Casper is the second-largest city in Wyoming and hosts one of the most unique end-of-summer events in the country a Great Duck Derby, where hundreds of rubber ducks race on the North Platte River for charity. Casper is also home to multiple historical sights with rich Native American culture.

#5. Flagstaff, AZ (Population: 68,667)
Situated between mountains, ponderosa pine forests and a desert, Flagstaff is a beautiful town with a ski resort nearby. Arizona's largest mountain, Humphrey's Peak, awaits eager hikers right outside the city. Flagstaff is the perfect destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

#6. Duluth, MN-WI (Population: 86,128)
Duluth is a growing seaport city located on the shores of Lake Superior. It offers a large variety of attractions, including America's only fresh-water aquarium and a restored viking ship at Leif Erikson Park. Duluth is also considered the largest metropolitan city on the lake.

#6. Salinas, CA (Population: 155,662)
Located on the corner of the Salinas Valley and South of the Bay Area, Salinas is an iconic town with a large agricultural industry. It was also home to famous writer and Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck. In fact, several of his novels are based in Salinas.

#6. Palm Bay, FL (Population: 104,898)
The most populous city in the Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville Metropolitan area, Palm Bay has 29 city parks and has a large selection of recreational activities, featuring paintball and skateboarding. It also has many beautiful beaches nearby. Palm Bay is certainly an entertaining city.

#6. Melbourne, FL (Population: 77,508)
The second most populous city in the Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville Metropolitan area, Melbourne is the perfect combination of natural amenities, recreational sports and strong community values. Sometimes called by its other name of The Harbor City, Melbourne is a great vacation destination for families.

#6. Titusville, FL (Population: 44,206)
Titusville is known popularly for its extensive space program, which is a strong source for most of its tourism. Like its neighboring cities, Titusville is aesthetically beautiful and offers gorgeous beaches and other natural sights.

#6. Kahului, HI (Population: 26,337)
Located on Hawaii's beautiful island of Maui, Kahului hosts the island's main airport. While it is not generally considered a tourist destination, Kahului has several malls and major stores and is home to Kanaha Beach County Park.

#6. Wailuku, HI (Population: 15,313)
Wailuku is located on the mouth of Iao Valley, a rainforest heavy location which serves as a beautiful tourist destination. Two ancient temples are located near the city, named Heiau, which literally means a Hawaiian temple. Wailuku also has many historical sites, including the Ka'ahumanu Church.

#6. Lahaina, HI (Population: 11,704)
Lahaina is the largest census-designated place on the island of Maui. It also serves as the gateway to the famous Ka'anapali and Kapalua beach resorts. While Lahaina has the smallest population out of the other two CDP, it is one of the more popular tourist destinations.

#10. Rapid City, SD (Population: 70,812)
Rapid City is the second-largest city in South Dakota. It is located on the eastern end of the Black Hills mountain range and has beautiful scenery. The most popular tourist attraction near Rapid City is the famous Mount Rushmore, located 25 miles from the city.

#10. Spearfish, SD (Population: 11,107)
An adventurous small town, Spearfish offers fun recreational activities, including mountain biking, fly fishing and rock climbing. It houses many local eateries and shops and is the perfect getaway for any thrill-seeker.

#10. Anchorage, AK (Population: 300,950)
Alaska's largest city with a whopping population of approximately 300,000 people, Anchorage is located near Chugach, Kenai and Talkeetna mountains. It has a vast wilderness and has a rich indigenous history. Anchorage's Alaska Native Heritage Center is home to crafts, dances and other symbols of the local people.

#10. Bismarck, ND (Population: 67,034)
Bismarck is the capital of North Dakota and is the second most populous city in the state. Bismarck is home to Dakota Zoo, located near the Missouri River, which features natural animal habitats. Bismarck also features Papa's Pumpkin Patch, a fun activity for people of any age.

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