Breathe Easy: The Best Cities in the U.S. for Breathable Air

Fad diets, fitness trackers, and drinkable collagen dominate the health and wellness space in 2021. The way we exercise, the supplements we take, and the food that we eat are ubiquitous topics of conversation—but what about the air that we breathe? 

Air quality as a health issue is often overlooked by the American public; but, consistent exposure to indoor and outdoor pollutants where you live can be just as harmful as a poor diet, smoking, or other habits with negative health consequences. In fact, air pollution is now the primary environmental cause of premature death, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. Thus, aeris ranked 50 of America’s largest metropolitan areas against a set of criteria related to air quality—particle pollution, allergens, park access, wildfires, renewable energy, and more—all in an effort to uncover the best U.S. cities for breathable air in 2021.

Read on to see our methods and the full ranking.

The Best U.S. Cities for Breathable Air

a graphic showing air quality statistics for Minneapolis, MN

Topping the list is Minneapolis, MN as the number one best city for breathable air in the U.S. Minnesota, a state known for its clean air initiatives, received a particle pollution grade of A, according to the American Lung Association’s 2021 State of the Air report, which grades U.S. regions on ozone and year-round particle pollution levels. Minneapolis has an allergen score of 55.85, over 14% lower than the national average (lower scores are better), and only 13% of the population are smokers. What’s more, humidity levels are relatively low, and 16.03% of the energy consumed in Minnesota is renewable.

a graphic showing air quality statistics for Raleigh, NC

Raleigh, NC lands the #2 spot in our ranking, most notably with a particle pollution grade of A and an air quality index (AQI) of 70.9—over 22% lower than the national average. The air quality index is an EPA measure, where lower AQIs are more favorable.

a graphic showing air quality statistics for New York City

With 99% of its residents within walking distance of a park, New York City earns the #3 spot. Trees and vegetation in NYC’s urban parks help to reduce pollutant emissions, air temperature, and carbon dioxide. To boot, an impressive 13.37% of New York state’s energy consumption is renewable, and only 1,123 acres were burned from wildfires last year. 

Other U.S. cities rounding out the top 10 include Boston, Seattle, Denver, and Portland. See the city cards below for a full breakdown of the top three cities in our ranking.

Acres Burned by 2020 Wildfires in Each State

U.S. map showing the states that burned most by 2020 wildfires

To supplement our ranking, we analyzed the number of acres burned in each state from wildfires last year. 2020 was a record-breaking year for wildfires in the U.S., which raged up and down the West Coast, burning 10.1 million total acres. According to data from the National Interagency Fire Center, 4.09 million acres were burned in California alone, followed by 1.14 million acres in Oregon and over 978,000 acres in Arizona. Further, 2021’s wildfire season has already begun with more than one million acres burned across 13 states. 

Wildfire smoke particles can easily seep through windows, doors, and ventilation systems, causing a slew of health problems like burning eyes or respiratory illnesses. We created a helpful guide for keeping your indoor air smoke-free during this year’s wildfire season.

Full Data

Interested in diving deeper into the numbers for the top U.S. cities for breathable air? We’ve compiled our full data study for all 50 U.S. cities into the interactive data table below. Search for the city you call home or click on the heading of each column to sort by that category!

Methodology

We considered eight ranking factors to determine which U.S. cities are the best to breathe in. Each of the eight factors was graded on a five-point scale, with a score of five representing the most favorable conditions. We determined each city’s score from the total of its individual factor scores, which were weighted according to their impact on a city’s overall air quality. The sum of these weights is 10, which creates a total possible city score of 50.

The eight ranking factors are listed below with their respective weights and source data:

  1. Particle Pollution Grade by State

Weight: 1.50

Source: American Lung Association

  1. Allergen Score by City

Weight: 1.50

Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA

  1. Air Quality Index by City

Weight: 1.50

Source: City-data.com

  1. Percentage of City Residents in 10 Minutes Walking Distance to a Park

Weight: 1.00

Source: The Trust for Public Land

  1. Percentage of Smokers by County

Weight: 0.75

Source: County Health Rankings

  1. Average Annual Relative Humidity by City

Weight: 1.25

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  1. Number of Acres Burned by Wildfires in 2020 by State

Weight: 1.25

Source: National Interagency Fire Center

  1. Percentage of Renewable Energy Consumption by State

Weight: 1.25

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)

Interested in improving your indoor air quality? Check out our full lineup of aeris air purifiers.

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