The 15 Most Polluted States in the United States

Take a deep breath. It feels good, right? Your existence is based on a few basic needs: food, water, and oxygen. The quality of the air you breathe every single day is invaluable to your health — so much that back in 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency created the Clean Air Act as a means of achieving cleaner, healthier air for both you and me, along with our environment. The National Ambient Air Quality Standards was created under the act to protect the public health and reduce the level of harmful emissions that result from nasty air pollutants.

Besides the very obvious industrial pollutants and carbon emissions from vehicles, climate change plays a major role in the air quality. While the country as a whole has improved in terms of ozone and year-round particle pollutants, nearly 39% of the population resides in areas of “unhealthful” levels of pollution.

Based on an analysis of data released from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the following states are considered the most polluted in the United States. The analysis measures the average daily fine particulate matter (ug/m3) in the air. We also looked at the rates of cancer in these states, per the CDC.

15. North Carolina

Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

Charlotte, North Carolina, USA North Carolina is trying to curb its pollution. | Sean Pavone/iStock/Getty Images

  • Air pollution (ug/m3): 12.99
  • Cancer diagnoses per 100,000 people: 448.8

From the Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks, North Carolina is home to over 10 million residents. The state’s growing population has contributed to some counties’ inability to meet the EPA’s ozone emissions. Clean Air Carolina advocates clean air initiatives in hopes of curbing the impact of industrialization and population growth on the air quality.

Next: Neighborly offenders

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