One-third of Americans Live in Areas with Unhealthy Air

SafeWise experts have years of firsthand experience testing the products we recommend. Learn how we test and review. We may earn money when you buy through our links.

Need to Know from SafeWise
  • A new report finds that unhealthy air impacts nearly 120 million people, mainly in the western U.S.
  • High pollution levels drive unhealthy air and disproportionally impact communities of color in the U.S.
  • Cities in California, Oregon, Arizona, Washington, and Alaska are the worst for air quality.
  • Air pollution comes from several sources, including cars, refineries, and power plants. Unhealthy air quality impacts our lungs and can cause respiratory problems.

Last week, the American Lung Association released its 2023 “State of the Air” report and found that nearly one-third of Americans—120 million people—live in counties with unhealthy air. Unhealthy air can lead to poor quality of life and health problems, impacting people of all ages.

One of the surefire ways to help yourself and your family is to move to an area with better air quality; however, air quality issues disproportionately impact communities of color, and asking those communities to relocate does not solve the problem. People of color have a high chance (64%) of living in a county with failing air quality.

Stay Safe and become a SafeWise Insider!

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter to get the best safety news, product info, and deals.

By signing up, you agree to our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.

“Climate change is impacting the East differently than the West,” Katherine Pruitt, the lead author and editor of the report, told The Washington Post. “The heat and drought in the West are driving pollution.”

According to the American Lung Association report, “Climate change is making the job of cleaning up the air more difficult.” But legislation can help. In fact, the Clean Air Act has improved the air quality for millions of people and is contributing to falling ozone levels. But still, more people are living in counties with dangerous air quality than ever before.

Air quality in the U.S.

SafeWise recently released its report for the cities with the best air quality in the U.S. All seven cities are on the east coast—except for Honolulu, which is off the Pacific Coast. 

North Carolina overwhelmingly tops the list with three cities in the top seven: Asheville, Greenville, and Wilmington. But even if your city isn’t on the list, you can improve your air quality with HEPA air purifiers that filter air and reduce particle pollution like pollen, dust, and dander in the air.

So, why is it important to reduce particle pollution? Air pollution particles can increase the risk of lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and emergency room visits. Air purifiers in the home can reduce particle pollution in your living space. Unfortunately, environmental factors, like wildfire smoke, contribute to outdoor particle air pollution outdoors, making it harder to regulate.

An interesting call-out from the recent SafeWise list is that many cities joined due to Clean Air Campaigns, including Asheville, North Carolina (coming in at #1), Lincoln, Nebraska (#4), Rochester, New York (#5), and Honolulu, Hawaii.

Cities in the west—primarily in California, Nevada, Alaska, and Arizona—topped the list for the worst air quality in the U.S.

Alex Kerai
Written by
Alex Kerai
Alex began writing for student newspapers and has managed to turn that into a career. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he wrote about small businesses for Biz2Credit and Before that, he spent time in communications for higher education institutions, created marketing materials for nonprofits, and worked for entertainment companies in Los Angeles. Today, he reports on emerging consumer trends and his work can be seen on The Penny Hoarder, SafeWise,,,,,,, and When he's not writing, Alex watches too much TV, plays guitar, reads and writes fiction, and goes on nature walks.

Recent Articles

Man and woman couple wife husband set up surveillance security camera
Best Apartment Security Systems
These renter-friendly apartment security systems help keep you safe and require less commitment than your...
Best DIY Home Security Systems of 2024
SimpliSafe is the best DIY home security system because it's cost-efficient, effective, and easy to...
woman adjusting thermostat in bright home
Best Home Security Systems
After thousands of hours of tests and research, we picked Vivint and SimpliSafe as the...
medical alert products on an illustrated background
Best Medical Alert Systems
See which medical alert system is the best to keep you and your loved one...