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America’s 10 Most Toxic Cities

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America’s 10 Most Toxic Cities

Imagining how unspoiled the American landscape was just a few short centuries ago, it is sad to say that, in terms of pollution and toxins, we’ve come a long, long way. With everything else we have accomplished, we have built so much industry that we’re literally choking on it.

For Forbes’ annual list of America’s 10 Most Toxic Cities, they looked at the 80 largest metropolitan areas and ranked them on five different indicators. Three of those measures–air quality, water quality and Superfund sites (abandoned areas that contain hazardous waste)–came from Sperling’s Best Places, which gathers health and quality-of-living indexes for U.S. cities. The other two indicators came from the Environmental Protection Agency: how many days in the year that the Air Quality Index exceeded 100, and the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), which tracks chemicals released, treated or managed by manufacturers. They also included water quality concerns as reported by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

While an East Coast Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)–and not New York City, by the way–grabbed the top spot, four areas in California cinched other places in the top ten, compliments of smog.

Forbes’ notes that if you reside in one of these areas, you don’t need a gas mask or an escape plan, although “it pays to be aware of the risks in your area. For example, the EPA says when the Air Quality Index for an area climbs above 100 (ratings range from zero to 500, with zero being the best) it can bring on respiratory problems for people with lung disease, children and older adults. Above 150, everyone can suffer.” Many, many cities never see a single day a year when the AQI is above 100, but one area on the list had 43 such days!

Here are which cities which made the top ten, and the contributing factors that got them there.

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


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8:00AM PST on Dec 7, 2011


7:59AM PST on Dec 7, 2011


6:16AM PDT on Sep 5, 2011

With all the fuss over California's environmental laws (from anti-environmentalists) you'd think they'd noticed that more cities in CA made this list than any other state...

7:43PM PDT on Apr 30, 2011

I use to live in NYC and had terrible breathing problems, I moved to Albuquerque, NM and problems fixed! I love New Mexico

1:18PM PDT on Apr 30, 2011

oh, my :( Thanks for sharing

9:20AM PDT on Apr 30, 2011

I"m living in sunny Florida (unfortunately summer's are humid) but definately can't complain after seeing the places listed here that are toxic. Pretty scarey! Time to concentrate on efforts to clean up our planet!!

7:35PM PDT on Apr 18, 2011


11:06PM PDT on Mar 29, 2011


9:48PM PDT on Mar 29, 2011

Why is California always leading these lists?

12:20PM PDT on Mar 29, 2011

Don't think you're immune from air problems if you live in the country or a small town. In the Baltimore area the worst air quality is in the middle of a field in a rural portion of a suburban county. You don't inherently deserve to have cleaner air just because you live in a smaller place. I really distain the anti-city sentiments that pervade many of the comments here. I'll take city living in a second.

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