What Are The Most Polluted Cities In The U.S.?

Walk outside or stick your head out of the window and take a deep breath. What did that feel like? Breathing? Good. Unfortunately, though, for some of us, where we live can have pretty harmful effects whether or not we can do just that. The American Lung Association recently released is 2015 State of the Air Report — and the rankings of the cleanest and most polluted cities are definitely lists to which we should be paying attention.

Unfortunately, the findings of the report were mixed. "Many cities experienced strong improvement and many others suffered worse episodes of unhealthy air," it states. "While most of the nation has much cleaner air quality than even a decade ago, a few cities even reported their worst episodes." What exactly does this mean? That over 40 percent of Americans — or nearly 138.5 million people — are living in cities where, often, pollution levels are verging on too dangerous to breathe.

Pollution levels in cities in the U.S. are measured in three ways: Ozone pollution, short term particle pollution, and year round particle pollution. The report analyzes data for these three categories measured by official monitoring sites across the United States between the years of 2011 and 2013. When it comes to the most polluted cities, the top five worst based on ozone levels, are all in California. As for the overall cleanest cities? They're all over the place, but maybe we could all stand to learn a few lessons from them.

Let's take a look at the top scorers:

The Top Five Most Ozone-Polluted Cities:

5. Sacramento-Roseville, CA

More like SacramentNO if you have asthma or enjoy breathing in general.

4. Fresno-Madera, CA

Fresno improved in its air quality, but remained the most polluted metropolitan area for year-round particle pollution, as it was in 2014.

3. Bakersfield, CA

Bakersfield just up and failed the national air quality standard, according to the report. Just look at the beautiful yellow tint of the smog.

4. Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, CA

Get your act together, Hanford!

1. Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA

Good ol' LA This isn't really a surprise to anyone who's lived, visited, or seen pictures of this smog-filled pollution epicenter. The good news is that LA reported its lowest ever annual average level of particle pollution since the report began. Hopefully they can keep this up and we might be able to see the skyline someday.

The Top Six Cleanest Cities Overall:

6. Bismarck, ND

Maybe one of the reasons North Dakotans have killer accents is because they're breathing better air.

5. Cape Coral-Fort Myers-Naples, FL

Fun fact: I just got back from Cape Coral and I believe every word of this. The city is gorgeous and clean, and their Uber drivers are awesome.

4. Elmira-Corning, NY

Is anyone else surprised New York made the list? I think a lot of us tend to forget how big this state is outside of the city. So if you're in NYC and need some fresh air, just drive almost as west as you can get within the state lines and you'll find Corning.

3. Fargo-Wahpeton, ND-MN

The show Fargo might have been dirty, but the air here isn't!

2. Rapid City-Spearfish, SD

Rapid City comes complete with its own dinosaur themed amusement park. Hey, maybe we should take a page out of this city's book before we all reach the same fate as our extinct friends?

1. Salinas, CA

I was just going to do the top five cleanest cities, but I had to cut CA a break. At least those who live in CA have a refuge to escape to, make your way on over to Salinas!

Images: 1Flatworld, Andrew Ranta, casch52, Chuck Brown, Pedro Szekely, Karrie Banaghan, Elin at Nite, Ben Borkowski, Ethan Kan, Robin Zebrowski, Jason Goecke/Flickr