In this piece, we will take a look at the 30 most polluted cities in the U.S. For more cities, head on over to 5 Most Polluted Cities in the U.S.
Pollution is an unfortunate and dangerous byproduct of modern day civilization and progress. The inventions of electricity transportation, and industrial production have exponentially transformed society in just a century, but at the same time, they have also ushered in greenhouse gases, toxic gases such as sulfur dioxide, plastic waste, and groundwater contamination as some of the ways in which the growth is harming the environment.
Additionally, industrialization is not the only source of pollution. Another major way that humans have impacted the environment is agriculture. The growth of food has vastly improved over the past millennium; however, the tools for this growth such as fertilizers and herbicides end up changing soil structure, nutrient cycles, and water systems. All these pose a hazard to human health and lead to serious diseases such as cancer.
At the same time, while stringent regulations curtailing industrial runoff might make it seem that water pollution in America is a thing of the past, the reality is quite different. A report from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) shows that waterways in America continue to be significantly impaired when it comes to recreational activities such as swimming and fishing. These waterways are also unsuitable for use as drinking water, and things are further complicated by the fact that a large number of rivers, streams, and others have not been studied at all. In terms of numbers, out of the 1.4 million miles of rivers and streams assessed, 51% are rated as impaired. The situation is similar for lakes and ponds, with 11.1 million acres of the 20 million assessed being impaired as well. State wise, the worst offenders are California, Oregon, Michigan, Indiana, and South Carolina - with all of these having more than 12,000 miles of rivers and streams being unsuitable for human contact.
Building on this, not only are a large portion of waterways polluted, but several cities are also finding it difficult to access drinking water. A report from the nonprofit organization DigDeep shows that 2.2 million people in America do not have running water in their homes. More than ten times this figure, or 44 million have plumbing systems that are not according to safety regulations, and an equal amount rely on well water. These figures also include half a million homeless people who might not have access to water, and people relying on well water are at a higher risk of catching E.Coli and facing increased levels of arsenic, uranium, and other contaminants. This lack of water access has an economic dimension as well since people spend more to get water and also suffer from diseases. DigDeep's CEO George McGraw believes that inequitable water distribution costs the American economy $8.6 billion each year.
Yet, water pollution is not the only pollution in America. Another source of contamination, and one that sees even less attention paid to than water contamination, is land contamination. Estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that almost one percent of U.S. land is contaminated, sitting at 22 million acres as of 2011. Naturally, since these estimates are more than a decade old, a fresher look is warranted. On this front, a report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) - a nonprofit - is quite daunting. While the EPA had estimated that 20 million acres of land were contaminated in 2011, the EWG believes that land contamination from PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemicals, such as those used to water and oil resistant coatings, sat at 22 million acres as of March 2022. These chemicals make their way into farmlands as farmers use sewage sludge to grow crops, and this contamination is further complicated by the fact that federal rules do not regulate PFAS chemicals making their way into sludge.
To help fight some of the effects of these problems, while larger companies (more on that later) have not taken the mantle, a flurry of startups has risen to meet the challenges. Several startups are striving to provide drinking water to people in America. One such firm is The Human Utility, a non profit backed by Y Combinator that seeks to help people in 30 cities pay their water bills. The firm allows people to sign up to donate water bills, lawyers and plumbers to offer related services, and community organizations to partner up to serve people. Another firm, and one that is involved more on the technological front, is WaterSmart. It provides a software platform that enables people to check for leaks in their homes, manage their water bills, and even lets utilities run their operations smoothly. Another company aiming to improve the water problem is Fluence Corporation. Based in Minnesota, the firm offers a variety of sustainable products to municipalities, commercial customers, and industrial users. These include wastewater treatment, sustainable solutions for food and beverage manufacturing, desalination products, and water treatment platforms.
With these details in mind, let's take a look at some of the most polluted cities in America.
In order to compile our list of the most polluted cities in America, we used data from the American Household Survey (AHS) and narrowed down the 40 largest metropolitan areas polled. Then, the percentage of homes with rats, mice, cockroaches, mold, and sewage breakdowns was calculated. The cities were then ranked through this, and their rankings were averaged to get a final score. Out of these, the top 30 polluted cities in the U.S. are listed below.
30 Most Polluted Cities in the U.S.
30. Portland, Oregon
Insider Monkey's Score: 24.5
Portland is the largest city in Oregon and part of the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro metropolitan area. It is a port city and hub of athletic gear production in America.
29. Phoenix, Arizona
Insider Monkey's Score: 24.5
Phoenix is the capital of Arizona and the most populous city in the region as well with a population of 1.6 million people.
28. Atlanta, Georgia
Insider Monkey's Score: 23.75
Atlanta is also the most populous city and the capital of its state. It is part of the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell metro area.
27. Raleigh, North Carolina
Insider Monkey's Score: 23.25
Raleigh is the capital of North Carolina and houses close to half a million people. It is a hub for the pharmaceutical industry in its city.
26. Boston, Massachusetts
Insider Monkey's Score: 23.25
Boston is the capital of Massachusetts and one of the most developed and advanced cities in America.
25. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Insider Monkey's Score: 23
Milwaukee houses more than half a million people and houses several Fortune 500 firms including energy and industrial firms.
24. Detroit, Michigan
Insider Monkey's Score: 22.75
Detroit is the largest city in Michigan and houses more than six hundred thousand people. A variety of financial firms, automotive manufacturers, and technology companies are based in the city.
23. New Orleans, Louisiana
Insider Monkey's Score: 22.5
New Orleans is one of the smaller cities on our list in terms of population. It is one of the most popular cities in the U.S. for tourists.
22. San Jose, California
Insider Monkey's Score: 22.25
San Jose is a technology hub in America and has some of the biggest technology firms in the world.
21. Louisville, Kentucky
Insider Monkey's Score: 21.5
Louisville is the largest city in Kentucky and houses several important car and appliance manufacturing plants.
20. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario
Insider Monkey's Score: 21
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario is one of the largest metro areas in America and has a population of 4.5 million people.
19. Washington, D.C.
Insider Monkey's Score: 20.25
Washington D.C. is the capital of America and has a large presence of government contractors and consultancy firms.
18. Cleveland, Ohio
Insider Monkey's Score: 20.25
Cleveland is part of the Cleveland-Elyria metropolitan statistical area. It is one of the smaller cities on our list with a population lower than 400,000.
17. Chicago, Illinois
Insider Monkey's Score: 20
Chicago is one of the largest cities in America with a population of 2.7 million people. It is part of the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin metro area.
16. Dallas, Texas
Insider Monkey's Score: 19.25
Dallas is part of Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, the fourth largest metropolitan area in America with a population of 17.5 million people.
15. Richmond, Virginia
Insider Monkey's Score: 19
Richmond is the capital city of Virginia and houses several large Fortune 500 companies.
14. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Insider Monkey's Score: 18.75
Pittsburgh is Pennsylvania's second largest city in terms of population with a population of just over three hundred thousand.
13. Los Angeles, California
Insider Monkey's Score: 17.75
Los Angeles is a cultural and business hub in America and has one of the biggest economies in the world.
12. Baltimore, Maryland
Insider Monkey's Score: 17.5
Baltimore is part of the Baltimore-Columbia-Towson statistical area. It is the largest city in Maryland in terms of population.
11. San Francisco, California
Insider Monkey's Score: 16.75
San Francisco is a cultural, economic, and financial hub in America. It also has high costs of living, particularly rent prices but an ambitious recycling program.
10. Miami, Florida
Insider Monkey's Score: 16.25
Miami is the second most populous city in Florida and a business hub in the state plagued with high levels of inequality.
9. Tampa-St. Petersburg
Insider Monkey's Score: 16
Tampa-St. Petersburg is part of the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area.
8. Kansas City, Missouri
Insider Monkey's Score: 14
Kansas City has a population of more than half a million people, making it the largest in its state.
7. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Insider Monkey's Score: 13.25
Philadelphia is an iconic city with a vibrant history.
6. Memphis, Tennessee
Insider Monkey's Score: 12.75
Memphis houses several Fortune 500 firms and is a transportation hub in its state.
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Disclosure: None. 30 Most Polluted Cities in the U.S. is originally published on Insider Monkey.