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November 17, 2011 at 3:51 PMComments: 5 Faves: 0

The 20 most polluted cities in America

By Laura Hogg More Blogs by This Author

Welcome to NatuREport! I'll be blogging weekly with the latest on the environment and "green" living. When it comes to living green, I'm far from perfect - but I've always had an interest in the subject. My grandmother was passionate about the environment way before it was the "in" thing to do - way back in the 50's - so I think it's in my genes.

So what's in the news this week?

This week, the internet is all abuzz because Forbes released their list of the 20 most polluted cities in America. (You can see the list here.) Some of their findings are pretty nasty - and could have a substantial impact on health.

Up here in Michigan, I'm situated nice and far from most of the biggest offenders (though it does pain me to see my beloved Pittsburgh so high on the list). So why do I care so much? Let's take a look at their number 1: Bakersfield, CA.

According to Forbes, Bakersfield has 60 days a year where the air is unfit to breathe (16% of the year, and 10 times the "acceptable" level), and 100 days a year where the ozone levels are unhealthy (27%). So basically, you walk outside and it's a crap shoot. You've got a 1 in 4 chance that taking a deep breath will do you almost more harm than good.

What kind of harm? The American Lung Association has data that shows more people die of respiratory issues on "bad air" days. And even in less extreme cases, the pollution contributes to asthma and - yup, it's the C-word - cancer. Medical costs to treat these ailments hit pocketbooks hard.

It took me a little while to let all that sink in, because I was still focused on the fact that it's okay to have unbreatheable air even 6 days out of the year. But I digress.

The Dilemma

So here's where the controversy comes in.

Power plant operators are concerned about the now; buying the equipment necessary to lower their emissions and clean up the air would cost a lot out of pocket. They're pushing to hold off on stricter regulations until we better understand the economic impact of such a decision. But the green lobby is more worried about the future; what kind of air do we want to leave to our children? As for the money - they've calculated that every dollar spent to control pollution will save $30 in health care.

It's a tug-of-war - the present versus the future. Do we forge ahead and risk even more economic troubles? Or do we hold off, and damage our lungs even more in the process?  There's no easy answer. While I think it is important that we know what we're getting into, I don't think we can, in good conscience, delay much longer.

Where do you stand? Sound off in the comments! 


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  • Awesome blog, Laura! This is a toughy, I would have to say, I'd lean more towards spending more money now to clean up the air vs. paying for it with my health in the end.

    However, I do wonder if businesses spend more money to lower the amount of emissions from their power plant, will they have to lay off workers? I am guessing there is a good chance they would.

    So then the question could be(for those employed at these companies) have no health care or have health care but use it often because of the pollution. It really is a controversial dilemma!

  • This is an incredibly difficult and complex question that really doesn't have a clear answer. We live in a society driven by commerce but we choose to put restrictions on the manufacturers that drive that commerce. I think the biggest push needs to come, not from government regulations, but from an actual willingness on the part of humanity to unite in a common goal of symbiosis with the planet. Thus far, people are far more willing to create a facebook group about going green than they are actually accomplishing any state of higher enlightenment. Let's face it, the movement could use a new face, Gore just isn't cutting it anymore with the bogus global warming speeches.

  • Bri - agreed. I think it's time we stop living with no thought for future generations. Let's stop being selfish for once! At the same time, though, we should perhaps pace ourselves.

    As for laying off workers - I think that's their fear. The economic consequences of this issue are very tricky. It would be nice if they could actually create jobs for people to develop cleaner energy and ways to clean up our current system...though I know it's more complicated than that.

    As tempting as it is to see this as a black and white issue, I think it's in the shades of gray that we'll find our solution.

    E.M. - agreed. We need a revolution within our own thought processes. I have long found it frustrating how being "green" is seen as trendy, and how those participating in the movement are somehow pretentious. If you don't participate in the movement, you're a "lazy American" and part of the problem, but if you do, you're insincere and pretentious! That, to me, represents a huge problem with our thinking.

    I spent most of my childhood in Canada, and coming to the U.S., it was kind of surprising how these "green" ideas were new here in the States. Reusable boxes/bags for groceries...we'd been doing that in Canada for YEARS!

  • When it comes to leaving problems to future generations.. We will be doing that either way it goes.. They will be cleaning up pollution or the financial burdens we take on now... The question is which is the lesser evil.. At least if pollution were gone, maybe we would be around a little longer to try to clean up the financial mess.

  • Julie, that's a great point. I don't envy the decision-makers on this issue...

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