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Most Polluted and Cleanest Cities of 2008
Smog in Los Angeles (left) contrasts with blue skies near Cheyenne, Wyo. Photo by <a href=''>Texas Hillsurfer -- WW Tribe Wanderer</a> and <a href=''> Infinite Wilderness</a>

Smog in Los Angeles (left) contrasts with blue skies near Cheyenne, Wyo. Photo by Texas Hillsurfer -- WW Tribe Wanderer and Infinite Wilderness.

The American Lung Association recently issued its“State of the Air: 2008” report for the United States, examining trends in air pollution and respiratory diseases, like asthma and chronic bronchitis, in major U.S. cities from 2004 to 2006.

Within the report are rankings of the “Most Polluted” and “Cleanest” cities. The research focuses on two of the most widespread air pollutants: ozone, the primary ingredient of smog, and particle pollution, found in sources like dirty truck exhaust.

Below are some highlights of the top five winners (or, losers?):


Most Polluted: Ozone: “The five worst cities for ozone all saw good improvement in their ozone levels during 2004-2006, including Los Angeles and Houston—two cities with most infamous smog problems.”

1. Los Angeles, Calif.
2. Bakersfield, Calif.
3. Visalia, Calif.
4. Houston, Tex.
5. Fresno, Calif.

Most Polluted: Year-Round Particle Pollution: “Aggressive emissions controls in the Los Angeles basin dropped the year-round particle levels by just under one-third during
this decade…. Several cities that also reduced year-round particle pollution dropped off the ’25 most polluted’ list this year, including New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia and Indianapolis.”

1. Los Angeles, Calif.
2. Pittsburgh, Penn.
3. Bakersfield, Calif.
4. Birmingham, Ala.
5. Visalia, Calif.

Most Polluted: Short-Term Particle Pollution: “For the first time, a city not in California—Pittsburgh—moved to the top of a most polluted list… Most cities curtailed the number of days with dangerous levels of short-term particle pollution.”

1. Pittsburgh, Penn.
2. Los Angeles, Calif.
3. Fresno, Calif.
4. Bakersfield, Calif.
5. Birmingham, Ala.


(Cities were listed alphabetically – not ranked – for least ozone and short-term particle pollution.)

Least Polluted: Year-round Particle Pollution:

1. Cheyenne, Wyo.
2. Santa Fe, N.Mex.
3. Honolulu, Hawaii
4. Great Falls, Mont.
5. Farmington, N.Mex.

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  • Pingback: New Ozone Standards Present Challenge, Opportunity for D.C. and Other U.S. Regions | TheCityFix DC()

  • Godofredo Arauzo

    CONFIRMED. The Oroya PERÚ the city most polluted of the world.

    Dr. Godofredo Arauzo

    Blacksmith Institute visited the Oroya city in May 2008. The observations about the achievements in the pollution by this metallurgic complex, according to statements of The Inter American Association for the Defense of the Environment (AIDA) by its name in Spanish.are DECEIVING, because such statements have no basis; is a summary presented by Doe Run. AIDA sustain that the environmental quality and the fulfillment or the degree of protection for human health of the Oroya city can not be evaluated based on the quantity of investment made by the company but it should be done based on the current data about the quality of air, lead level in the blood and another environmental and health indicators, that the report does not take into account (1).
    Critic that Blacksmith is based on limited datum in order to evaluate, for example, the sulphur bioxide (SO2) level in the zone. Blacksmith Institute affirms that the SO2 concentration in the Oroya city has a day time average of 5.000 ug/m3 (maximum allowed is 13 ug/m3) (CDC); but during the day that Blacksmith was in the Oroya, the SO2 concentration was 0.(1)
    Finally AIDA concludes that the Blacksmith report undermines the efforts to really reach the remediation and cleaning of Oroya city (1)
    AIDA express too that the quality of air in the Oroya has deteriorated seriously after the metallurgic complex came into Doe Run’s hands. Doe Run itself said that the lead concentration raised to 1.163%, the arsenic to 606% and the cadmium to 1990% (2). The concentrations of lead, cadmium, arsenic, sulphur dioxide and others have substantially increased since 1997, mainly due to the increasing of production; for example, the lead production raised 25% (3). The inhabitants of Oroya city are contaminated by a toxic cocktail (4); it is a living laboratory.
    The cadmium concentration (Cd) raised dramatically since the acquisition of the complex by Doe Run. In 1999 the Cd concentration was 0.22 ug/m3 in the Syndicate (the level allowed was 0.0055 ug/m3); it surpassed by more than 40 times the frontier and did not inform anymore to the Ministry for Mines and Energy (MEM) since year 2000; in the same way, the arsenic concentration soared meaningly since 1997. There is not monitoring of particulate material smaller than 2.5 micra (PM 2.5), that are the most dangerous to human health and move easily. Ceverstav says that the parameters of air quality have been deteriorated dramatically after Doe Run have in charge of the complex (5)
    The Environment Protection Agency of USA (EPA), has 1467 chemical compounds registered as the most harmful and the sulphur dioxide (SO2) is ranking number 16 in dangerousness (6). Cevestav showed based on the same figures that Doe Run sends to MEM every 3 months, that SO2 emission had incremented in more than 200% since Doe Run has in charge the complex (5).
    Blacksmith affirms that the SO2 concentration in the Oroya is in average 5,000 ug/m3 (1); another author reports that this average is 934 ug/m3 (2); the level allowed is 13 ug/m3 (7). The day time concentration is higher between 8 am and 5 pm and it reaches a peak of 2,100 ppb (the allowed value is 280 ppb) (5). In August 13. 2008 the SO2 concentration arrived to an historic and horrifying limit: 27,000 ug/m3 (8-9-10) (the allowed figure is 13 ug/m3 (7).
    Another heavy metals and highly toxic compounds are not analysed in the Oroya: vanadium, uranium, mercury, antimony, barium, selenium, chromium, cobalt, molybdenum, nickel, and aluminum (2). The inhabitants of the Oroya are contaminated, not only with lead but too with cadmium, arsenic, sulphur dioxide, and antimony, as well; the antimony concentration is 30 times higher than in USA (11): .
    There has not been any decrease in the air concentration of lead in the last 5 years in the Oroya; in Huanchan such concentration is above 15 times the level permitted; in the months of January and February 2007 it was an excess of 245% above the allowed level in Huanchan station; in 2006 the cadmium concentration exceeded 48 times the levels allowed by the WHO (12): lead production increased by 25% (2).
    Doe Run monitors only specific sources; it does not monitor the toxic agents that are emitted through the 95 small chimneys neither it monitors to the deposits of concentrateds and deposits to arsenic of Vados and Malpaso, as it does not monitor either the elimination coming from the industrial incinerator and the cock plant that was emitting 23,800 meters cubits per day of toxic gases (PAMA).
    Doe Run explained that the pollution of the Oroya had diminished; one attendant person spitted that the pollution has increased; the lecturer answered: show me a document about your statement and the person replied: the best document who I count of is my contaminated body’ (4).
    The SO2 emissions from the cooper Peruvian smelting are among the production sources of the highest sulphur dioxide concentration in the world and they are also among the most contaminated production sources in the world (13).
    There is not concrete information about the quality control systems to the sampling and to the analysis of the monitoring procedure used by the company; we are not certain about the accuracy, confidentiality and suitable of the information reported to MEM; the figures reported to MEM could be considered as an approximation and are under valuated and they are not in electronic neither in graphic form (5).
    The contamination generated in La Oroya is not only limited to this city, but it also pollutes distant areas like Concepcion, 100 km far away of Oroya: University of Missouri found lead in the blood of children with ages 0 to 6 years: 20 to 44 ug/dl in the 72.22% ; 10 to 19 ug/dl in the 16.67%; 45 to 69 ug/dl in the 8.33% and less than 10 ug/dl in the 2.78%; it means that the 97.22% of the children of the city of Conception are contaminated with more than 10 ug/dl of lead in their blood; the amount permitted was 10 ug/dl; but, at present the Academy of Paediatrics of USA says that the maximum allowed is 0 ug/dl of lead in the blood (14). In the rural zone near the Oroya, Cuchimachay there is an amount of 59.26 ppm (the allowed level being 3 ppm) of cadmium in the soil; there is no vegetal cap in this place (15).
    The metallurgic complex of Oroya has 37 liquid flows that go to the Mantaro river; Doe Run monitors only 12. The rules of the Peruvian state about monitoring of the quality of water in the mining works state that all the liquid discharges that go to surface waters must be constantly monitored (5-16).
    The 2006, 26 July Doe Run obtained the ISO 14001:2004 certificate (17) and the 2008, 11 March was removed because the company did not fulfull the Peruvian environmental laws, and did not have appropriate measures for preventing the pollution (18).
    Doe Run the 2007 commited 4 heavy and 1 simple violence environment that the Peruvian state had to put to Doe Run a fine to $ 724,500 (The Comercio 08. 20-12)
    In Huancayo, 120 km far away from La Oroya there is jurisprudence. In 1942 the Judiciary Power orders to the Cerro de Pasco Copper Corporation, owner of Oroya at that time, to pay a compensation of $ 200,000 to Bazo Velarde, because of the harms caused to the Jatunhuasi Livestock, by the smokes of the Oroya (19).
    The Judiciary Power (20), the Constitutional Court (21) and the Inter American Commission for Human Rights (CIDH, for its name in Spanish) (22), demanded that the Peruvian state to be aware about the health of the inhabitants of Oroya..
    Oroya pollutes the surface and deep waters, the soil, the air, and generates acid rain (23), factors that cause damages to human and animal health, the ecosystems and biodiversity, in a way greatly irreversible. The smokes of the Oroya have affected 700,000 hectares around the Oroya (2-24).
    Doe Run will reduce its contamination in two circumstances: when it uses up to date technology as put in practice in Herculeanum, or when it reduces the refining tons. The Trial plant, in Canada, decreased in 25% the lead concentration in the children blood, and reduced the concentration of heavy metals in the air in more than 75%, by the use of clean technology; in the Paso when the foundry was closed, the lead concentration in the air decreased immediately and the lead concentration in the children’s blood plummeted by more than 75%; in Torreón Mexico, the government ordered to refine only a 50%, and similar effects were obtained (5). The damages must be paid by Doe Run according to the world consensus THE THAT POLLUTE PAY, set in practice in Europe since 1972 (25); the way as it does in Herculaneum can reply these actions in Oroya city (2-27).
    .The 2008 August 13 Oroya city has been confirmed as the most polluted city to the world. This day the SO2 concentration in air in the Oroya reached an historical and horrifying level: as journal The Comercio said (8); it arrive 27,000 ug/m3; while the allowed level was 13 ug/m3 (7) and the device that measured the concentration got to its maximum limit probably if the device had had more space in its scale that figure would have been higher (8-9-10), but when Blacksmith was visiting the Oroya the SO2 concentration in air was 0 (zero) (1). Some other figures confirm that Oroya is the most polluted city on the earth: according the report Mantaro Revive 2007: in the Ancienty Oroya has a soil concentration of 4713 ppm of arsenic (As) while the allowed amount is 12 ppm, and the cadmium (Cd) has 193.87 ppm while the permitted amount is 14 ppm, according to the Canadian Environmental Quality Guidelines (28).

  • Marcel Porras

    Kevin and Ethan-

    I currently live in Los Angeles, and while I agree that Los Angeles is the car capitol of the country, and past attempts to get people out of there car have failed, I do think that there is change coming. Of course, this change is coming slowly, but nonetheless, L.A. has begun to experiment with new technologies and pricing systems that will help manage the demand to drive. For example, the city is currently piloting wireless technology that calculates parking occupancy levels, that when coupled with pricing strategies can help avoid the “cruising” for parking that impacts local congestion. In addition, the City of Los Angeles has been awarded money ($212 million, I believe, the same that NYC lost) to pilot FAST Lanes on the 10 and 110 Freeways, and to implement a variable pricing parking project in downtown. To top it off, the City just passed a ballot measure that adds 1/2 cent sales tax over the next 30 years, which is projected to generate approximately 40 billion dollars for transit related projects.

    Finally, a recent study (“Moving Los Angeles: Short-Termp Policy Options for Improving Transportation) conducted by the RAND Corporation articulates that there is no silver bullet to solving congestion in Los Angeles, but rather that the solution is made up of several smaller treatments that include signal synchronization, one-way streets, HOT Lanes, variable curb parking rates, parking cash-out, BRT with bus only lanes, a regional bicycle network, etc.

  • Kevin Warner

    Ethan, I agree that the L.A. car culture and its impact on congestion is a driver. But as a former Angelino, I can comfortably say that Angelinos will never leave their cars in large enough numbers to dramatically reduce congestion. And, by world city standards, L.A. congestion might be considered relatively acceptable because it is a multi-node urban complex (really a collection of large and medium sized cities). Leadership in L.A. has tried to implement congestion management programs for decades with limited success. There is only so much gain to be made with increased urban density that can be effectively served by mass-transit in such a spatially vast metroplex with a population that is already over 10 million. Left with this prediction, I can see only one meaningful core solution to air quality concerns in L.A. and that is zero or near-zero emission activity (transport, power generation, etc.). So, I strongly believe that public policy in the L.A. region should help drive local investment toward technologies that bring about zero emission activity (which will also no doubt produce benefits with regard to congestion management). But

  • Kevin, thanks for the comment. LA is also the car capital of this country. Car’s drive LA’s development and then the development drives LA’s car use. It’s a lethal cycle. Even if LA is able to control emissions through zero emissions technologies it will still have to deal with the problem of congestion.

  • Kevin Warner

    No surprise that L.A. is #1 or #2 on all three “most polluted” lists. I was born, raised and lived over 20 years in L.A. and witnessed first-hand the factors that contribute to the unfortunate title of most (air) polluted city in America. L.A. has long been a victim of its ideal geography (warm and dry climate, surrounding mountains, ocean breezes that cause air inversions and keep smog contained in the basin, etc.). With its sprawling development pattern, nearly all air pollution emissions (particulates, ozone, NOx, etc.) stay in the natural coastal basin we call Los Angeles. Short of the occasional Santa Ana winds that blow smog out to sea (which isn’t good either), the only real cure for air pollution in L.A. is zero emission activity. If any government(s) and businesses should be sponsoring and investing in zero emission technology, it should be the collective agencies, cities and industries of Southern California. After all, the 12+ million people who call greater L.A. home have the most to gain, or lose, from air quality in Los Angeles.