July Fourth fireworks may be adding to air pollution

A ConsumerAffairs study tracks the U.S. cities with the best and worst air

Independence Day will see thousands of fireworks displays across America, and while they will be an inspiring sight, scientists have found they won’t do America’s already declining air quality any good.

Nearly a decade ago researchers at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published a study showing that early-July hourly particulate (PM2.5) levels at 315 U.S. monitoring sites sharply increased.

They said PM2.5 concentrations were elevated on July 4 evening and July 5 morning, with the largest increases between 9 pm and 10 pm on July 4, diminishing by noon on July 5.

Since the study, U.S. air quality has faced many challenges, including early June’s outbreak of Canadian wildfires that cloaked American cities from the Northeast to the Midwest in smoke. Currently, a severe heat wave has much of the Midwest in its grip, worsening air quality even more.

A new ConsumerAffairs study of U.S. air quality trends found that when it comes to air quality, some areas are better off than others.

If you live in the Northwestern United States you have the best chance of breathing cleaner air. If you live in California, you’re likely to face the worst air pollution. 

Best air

ConsumerAffairs researchers found these five metros have the best air: 

  1. Longview, Wash.

  2. Urban Honolulu, Hawaii

  3. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

  4. Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, Hawaii

  5. Bellingham, Wash.

On the flip side, these metros have the worst air quality:

  1. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif.

  2. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, Calif.

  3. Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.

  4. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas

  5. El Centro, Calif.

Why Houston made the list

Houston is the only non-California metro to make the worst-air list. Heidi Bethel, a researcher at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says Houston’s pollution consists of “tailpipe emissions from cars, trucks and buses; toxic pollutants emitted into the air by more than 400 chemical manufacturing facilities, including two of the four largest refineries in the U.S.; [and] the petrochemical complex along the Houston Ship Channel and the Port of Houston.”

While the air might not be that great in other parts of the U.S., the ConsumerAffairs study identified metros where air quality has improved the most in recent years. According to the study, “bad air” days in Rome, Ga., declined by 89%.

Lafayette-West Lafayette, Ind., Fort Wayne, Ind., Missoula, Montana, and Washington, DC also scored significant improvements in air quality.

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