Last month, Forbes rated and ranked the most toxic cities in the United States–the portrait painted was distressingly grim with the worst offender spewing 11.3 million pounds of on-site toxic releases into the atmosphere in 2009. (Read more about it here: America’s 10 Most Toxic Cities.) Many readers were eager to know more about the other end of the spectrum–the cities that fared the best for being the least toxic–and Forbes complied with a new list.
For the new rankings, they began with the 80 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) which have data on toxicity levels, they then rated these areas based on five measures of pollution and toxicity.
Two of the measures were calculated using data from the EPA:
The Air Quality Index (AQI) measures the number of days air quality in each of these metros rose above 100 on an EPA index. (At 150, the EPA deems air pollutant levels unhealthy for everyone exposed).
Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) represents the number of toxic substance pounds released, or produced, managed and disposed of in each MSA per year, as reported by the facilities generating them. While the TRI does not indicate these substances find their way into the environment or threaten exposure to humans residing in the area, it does reflect the sheer amount of toxic activity taking place.
Data to calculate the remaining measures came from Sperling’s Best Places (an online research aggregator that collects health and living quality indexes)–the ratings used here were for the MSAs’ water quality and air quality. Lastly, they tallied in data for Superfund sites (uncontrolled or abandoned places where hazardous waste is located, possibly affecting local ecosystems or people). Sperling’s factors in both the number of active sites and the amount of cleanup funding they’re receiving.
Click through to see the top ten least toxic cities, number 1 being the cleanest of the group.
10. Wichita, Kan.
Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA): Wichita, Kan.
Air quality rank: 1
Water quality rank: 41
Superfund rank: 22
Pounds of on-site toxic releases (2009): 1.6 million
8. Bradenton, Fla.
MSA: Bradenton-Sarasota-Venice, Fla.
Air quality rank: 13
Water quality rank: 64
Superfund rank: 2
Pounds of on-site toxic releases (2009): 496,000
Although this MSA ranked No. 8 due to decent air quality and excellent Superfund ratings, water quality is awful (36 out of the ideal 100). In Bradenton, like most cities, Forbes recommends considering the use of a filter for tap water.
7. Scranton, Pa.
MSA: Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Air quality rank: 17
Water quality rank: 7
Superfund rank: 58
Pounds of on-site toxic releases (2009): 301,000
This Scranton MSA has a low number of on-site toxic releases and a surprisingly high water quality rating, but its Superfund assessment is shockingly poor, with a rating of 49 out of 100. According to the report: Many of these sites hark back in some way to the area’s mining days. The northern Pennsylvania metro was a major hub for the coal and steel industries during the 1800s and into the early 20th century. Those companies, for the most part, have moved their mining elsewhere, leaving behind contaminated sites. But the government–and in some cases the communities themselves–has been steadily cleaning them up for the past several decades.
McAllen and its Plains-Gulf, Texas, neighbors score the best Superfund ranking on the list. According to Forbes, a search through the EPA’s National Priorities List for region 6, where Texas superfund sites are inventoried, indicates that the small metropolis has no active sites undergoing or in need of cleanup. Since tens of thousands of sites plague communities across the country, zero is impressive!