Best and Worst Cities for Children with Asthma

by Laura Roe Stevens

Best and Worst Cities for Children with Asthma

If you are a parent of a child with asthma, air quality is important to you. Clearly, occupations may require that you live in a polluted city, and therefore, managing your child’s asthma is critical. (See: Managing Your Child’s Asthma) But you may be surprised to learn just how polluted your city or home town may be. For instance, did you know that Cleveland, Ohio and Birmingham, Alabama have higher year-round particle (soot) pollution levels than New York City? Here’s another shocker: Eugene, Oregon and Salt Lake City, Utah are ranked much higher for short-term particle pollution levels than Manhattan as well. And when you think about the sheer numbers of children with asthma in New York, it makes you wonder what the accurate rates are for children nationwide. For instance, in the New York metropolitan area 300,000 children are diagnosed with asthma and it is the leading cause for school absenteeism and the top reason why children go the hospital. One might expect those figures from one of the most polluted metropolitan areas in the country. That’s why it’s surprising that the city doesn’t rank in the top 10 for short-term or long-term particle pollution levels. Experts say, this indicates that people living in other cities may not realize how polluted the air quality is for their children.


The American Lung Association (ALA) wants to educate Americans on the realities of air quality by city and county. That’s why the organization labors each year to put together its “Annual State of the Air Report,” comparing air quality in all cities and counties in the U.S. measuring ozone levels and particle (soot) pollution levels. While air quality has improved since 2002, we still have a long way to go. The 2006 report found that more than half of the U.S. population—that’s more than 150 million people— live in counties with dangerous levels of ozone or particle pollution.


Not surprisingly, Los Angeles and Bakersfield California topped the lists for the most polluted cities for ozone levels, short-term and year-round particle pollution levels. California had several cities on the worst air quality lists including: Fresno, Madera, Visalia, Porterville, and Merced. Surprisingly for poor short-term particle pollution, Salt Lake City and Ogden Utah tied as the 5th most polluted cities in that category. Eugene, Oregon ranked 7th and Provo, Utah ranked 9th. By comparison, New York ranked 15th for short-term particle pollution.


Ozone level pollution is also a concern for asthmatics and while Los Angeles topped this list and New York came in 9th—southeastern U.S. cities did not fare well. Houston ranked 6th and Dallas ranked 8th for dangerous ozone levels. But rounding out the top 20 for high ozone levels include: Washington D.C./Northern Virginia at 12, Knoxville, TN at 14, Charlotte, N.C. ranked 15, Raleigh/Durham, NC, ranked 19 and Baton Rouge, LA coming in at 20.


As a comparison, some of the cleanest cities in the country, with low short-term and long-term particle pollution levels, as well as low ozone levels, include: Colorado Springs, Colorado; Honolulu, Hawaii; Flagstaff, Arizona; Great Falls, Montana; and Lakeland, Florida.


To find out how your city or county fares, go to the American Lung Association Web site where you can enter your zip code and receive an air quality report.