7 Cities with the Best Air Quality in the U.S.

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Despite efforts to clean up air pollution levels, almost 120 million people in the U.S.—or more than one in three—live in counties with unhealthy levels of particle pollution or ozone.

The American Lung Association’s 24th annual “State of the Air” report found that air quality has improved nationwide overall, but there are significant differences between air quality in western and eastern states and between exposure to air pollution for white people and people of color.

Unhealthy air can lead to a poor quality of life and multiple health problems. Dirty air can instigate emergency room visits, poor lung development in children, and even death in some cases.

If you’re looking to breathe in some cleaner air, consider one of these cities, which the American Lung Association deemed the cleanest in the US.

Cities are listed alphabetically, not in order of cleanest air.

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1. Asheville-Marion-Brevard, North Carolina

Asheville, NC skyline daytime

Asheville is new to the list of cleanest places this year. This improvement may be due to efforts like the Clean Air Campaign, which aims to "reduce air pollution in the French Broad River Valley through increased public awareness and participation. The Campaign focuses on making citizens more aware of our air quality problems and of what they can do to help solve these problems through reduced driving and energy conservation." 

2. Bangor, Maine

Bangor, Maine skyline daytime

This is Bangor's second consecutive year on the American Lung Association's list of cleanest places to live. Find out more about what's keeping Bangor's air fresher than most on the Maine Department of Environmental Protection's list of air quality programs.

3. Greenville-Kinston-Washington, NC

The Greenville area is new to the list this year, although North Carolina has the largest representation of any state—with three entries on this list of seven. If you call this clean air state home, find out how you can help keep it that way at CleanAIRE NC.

4. Lincoln-Beatrice, NE

Photo: SafeWise

For the second year in a row, Lincoln lands on the American Lung Association's list of the cleanest places to live in the U.S. Stay up-to-date on the current air quality in the Lincoln area, along with public notices, media coverage, and air quality resources from the Lincoln Air Quality Program.

5. Rochester-Batavia-Seneca Falls, NY

Rochester NY skyline sunset

Rochester is the third and final new entry to the list of cleanest cities this year. Some credit may go to the City of Rochester's Office of Energy and Sustainability's community-wide Climate Action Plan. This plan has been in action since 2017, and it's goal is to "reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 2010 levels by 2030."

6. Urban Honolulu, Hawaii

scenic photo of Honolulu Hawaii

Photo: SafeWise

Once again Honolulu lands on the list of cities with the cleanest air in the U.S. What else would you expect from an island paradise? But it's not just geography at work here—the Hawaii Department of Health has an entire Clean Air Branch dedicated to keeping its island air as pure as possible. 

7. Wilmington, North Carolina

Rounding out North Carolina's dominance is Wilmington, which makes its second consecutive showing the American Lung Association's list. Go to North Carolina's Air Quality Portal for daily pollution and ozone forecasts, pollen counts, and more. 

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Improve your air quality

No matter where you live, you can get an air purifier to improve the indoor air quality in your home. Air purifiers use a fan to pull air through a set of filters. Irritating airborne particles like dust, pollen, or dander are trapped in the filters, as well as air pollution and odor molecules. The fresh air is then returned to the room.

We recommend HEPA air purifiers because they can remove at least 99.7% of airborne particles1.

Best HEPA air purifier

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Air quality facts and tips

  • The Air Pollution Control Act of 1955, was the nation's first legislation aimed at air pollution.
  • Air pollution particles can be smaller than 1/30th the diameter of your hair, making them ideal for inhalation and passing by the body's defenses.
  • Particle pollution can lead to increased risk of lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and emergency room visits.
  • The increase in wildfires across the U.S. adds to particle air pollution via spreading smoke.
  • Over 18 million people "live in counties that got an 'F' for all three air pollution measures in 'State of the Air' 2023."
  • Over 64 million Americans (54% of the 120 million total) who live in areas with unhealthy air quality are people of color.
  • People of color were 3.7 times as likely to live in a county with a failing grade for all 3 of the American Lung Associations air pollution measures.
  • Check the air quality forecast in your area before exercising or working outdoors. 
  • Using a portable air purifier with a HEPA filter can help reduce triggers for people with asthma.
  • If you or someone you love has asthma, develop an asthma action plan to deal with environmental triggers at home.

Endnotes

Methodology

We used the American Lung Association's "State of the Air" report, which identified the cities in the U.S. with the cleanest air.

To make the list, "a city must experience no high ozone or particle pollution days and rank among the 25 cities with the lowest year-round particle pollution levels."

The “State of the Air” report uses data from air quality monitors managed by state, local and tribal air pollution control authorities in counties across the country. Out of 3,221 counties in the U.S., only 29% (922) can monitor for at least one pollutant. That leaves over 71 million people living in counties where  ozone and particle pollution levels aren't monitored.

The report, published on April 19, 2023, covers air quality metrics for the years 2019, 2020, and 2021.

Sources

  1. Environmental Protection Agency, "What is a HEPA filter?" March, 2023.  Accessed April 17, 2023
Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past decade. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime and safety reports and spotting trends. Her expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like NPR, TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, HGTV, MSN, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of podcast, radio and TV clips in the US and abroad.

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