Chicago, IL

Chicago is in the top 25 most polluted American cities according to a new report

Jennifer Geer

The American Lung Association released its annual State of the Air report revealing that the Chicago metro area has high levels of smog and particle pollution. by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

(CHICAGO) Coming in on the list at number 16 for smog, and 22 for year-round particle pollution, the Chicago metro area, is one of the worst places to breathe in the country.

The American Lung Association's analysis is compiled using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for ozone (smog) and particle pollution. The report grades cities and counties based on scores for ozone, year-round particle pollution, and short-term levels.

The study found that 137 million Americans are living in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution.

Where is the air the most polluted?

California ranks number one on the list. The Los Angeles/Long Beach area is number one for ozone. While Bakersfield, California, takes the top spot for year-round particle pollution.

Who has the cleanest air?

According to the report, if you want to breathe freely, you'll need to head to Altoona/Huntingdon, Pennsylvania (best for ozone) or Cheyenne, Wyoming (best for year-round particle pollution.)

What is smog?

The name "smog" came in the early 1900s due to a mix of smoke and fog from burning coal. Smog, or ozone pollution, is caused by air pollutants that combine in the sunlight to form ground-level ozone.

The ozone high in the atmosphere protects the earth from dangerous ultraviolet light from the sun. But when it's at ground level and people breathe it, it can be bad for health, and especially troublesome for people with conditions such as asthma.

What is particle pollution?

Particle pollution is also called particulate matter. It is made up of tiny pieces of solids or liquid that can come from vehicles, factories, and coal power plants. Because they are so tiny, people can breathe them into their lungs, causing health issues.

What is contributing to air pollution in Chicago?

Although wildfires have contributed to air pollution overall, especially in the western U.S., it's different for Chicago. As a major transportation hub in the midwest, Chicago's air is mainly polluted due to industrial and transportation sources.

What can you do?

The American Lung Association recommends everyone check daily air pollution forecasts at They also suggest individuals try to walk, bike, or use public transit over driving gas-powered vehicles. You can learn more at


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Jennifer covers lifestyle content and local news for the Chicago area. New articles published each weekday.

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