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10 Cities with the Cleanest Air in the World

10 Cities with the Cleanest Air in the World

 

If you’re making plans for summer vacation, you might prefer not to visit the smoggiest countries. But where might you go to find the cleanest air?

The American Lung Association (ALA) ranks Wyoming’s capital city of Cheyenne as #1 in the U.S. for being the cleanest in annual particle pollution, but the city’s crisp mountain air has become smoggier as a result of natural gas drilling that has raised ozone levels, so they’ve been higher than Los Angeles. Maintaining consistently good air quality is a challenge.

As this World Health Organization map reveals, you’ll find some of the cleanest air in Canada, the U.S., Europe (especially its northern regions) and Australia. If you’re hoping to breathe a bit easier this summer, here are ten places you might want to visit based on information from the WHO and the 2013 State of the Air report (pdf) from the American Lung Association (ALA), as determined by the amount of ozone and long-term and short-term particulate matter in the air.

1. Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada

The largest city in northern Canada, Whitehorse in the Yukon, has some of the cleanest air of any city in the world, according to the WHO. As Whitehorse mayor Bev Buckway says,

“A lot of people come up north and they smell the air and the say “‘Oh wow. Amazing. The air smells so good.’ And we tend to take it for granted because we just have that all the time.”

Whitehorse can thank a lower population density and stricter regulations for its clean air, as well as a favorable climate.

2. Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

New Mexico’s capital has some of the cleanest air in the U.S., with low counts of both particle pollution and ozone — in fact, it is one of only 20 U.S. cities whose ozone levels have consistently been low. Situated in a region with 1.5 million acres of forest, the city has strict regulations to limit the burning of wood in the open air. Besides this, Santa Fe has been designated aUNESCO Creative City for its thriving art, crafts and design community.

3. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

Honolulu means “sheltered bay” or “place of shelter” in native Hawaiian; this aptly describes the city on the big island of Hawaii. Honolulu is about 2,000 miles away from the U.S. mainland, beyond where particles from burning coal can travel. The Diamond Head and Koko Head craters are nearby and the city has low levels of ozone and particle matter and receives plenty of rain. A well-designed transit system with dedicated bus lanes also helps to cut down on emissions.

4. Great Falls, Montana, USA

Situated in an area of great natural beauty with hiking trails and nature refuges, Great Falls is located in north-central Montana. The city’s residents have worked to keep their air clean, successfully fending off the construction of a 250-megawatt coal-fired power plant that would have released 2.1 million tons of carbon emissions into the air per year. The power company said it would instead built a 120-megawatt natural gas-fired plant.

5. Calgary, Alberta, Canada

The WHO ranks the air quality of Calgary, Canada, highly, even with a large gas and oil industry in the region. Thoughtful urban planning and public transportation help to manage traffic congestion. Calgary is located in southern Alberta province and maintains three sanitary landfill sites for screening garbage and removing biodegradable and recyclable materials.

6. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

From a light rail system to a Spring Cleaning the Capital program in which 60,000 volunteers join together to clean parks and other public spaces, the Canadian capital has established a number of measures to keep its streets and air clean. The Rideau canal (pictured above) runs through a good part of the city and, in the winter when it freezes, becomes a huge outdoor skating rink.

7. Helsinki, Finland

The capital of Finland is one of the cleanest metropolitan centers in Europe thanks to efforts to limit emissions from vehicles and industry; the government says that as much as over half of the particle pollution in the country comes from elsewhere. The city has wide streets to cut down on traffic congestion and also advises residents to take public transit when air quality is poorer.

8. Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm has an extensive public transportation system. The Swedish capital also has the largest percentage of clean vehicles in Europe with about 5 percent of all of its vehicles being hybrids. Stockholm has also imposed a congestion charge on cars in its central area and promoted cycling. It’s a wonderful city to walk around in; Stockholm’s archipelago offers ready access to the wilderness.

9. Zurich, Switzerland

Located near Germany on Switzerland’s northern border, Zurich has a well-developed and highly efficient public transportation system of trains, boats, buses and trams. The city also encourages bike riding and has tried a number of innovative methods to main air quality such as outfitting buses with mobile sensors — all the better for residents and visitors to enjoy its architecture, cultural institutions and lake.

10. Tailinn, Estonia

Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, the small Baltic country ranked as having the best air quality by the WHO (Estonia is also the most wired in the world and a leader in e-government). More than half of the country’s land is covered by trees and public transit helps to keep emissions low.

While saying that “in Estonia, clean air is as natural as tooth brushing in the morning in a decent family,” Keit Pentus, Minister of the Environment, emphasizes that residents must remain vigilant via “more environmentally friendly energy production and more modern and comfortable public transport.”

Clean air is something we cannot, sadly, take for granted today — all the more reason to keep working to make the air in these cities and around the world is the best it can be.

Photos from Thinkstock except top photo (Santa Fe) by Jim Nix/Nomadic Pursuits, photo of Whitehorse by grampymoose/Flickr, photo of Great Falls by roger4336/Flickr

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Stop Winter Indoor Air Pollution at Its Source

Stop Winter Indoor Air Pollution at Its Source

 

You’ve got the sniffles. Your eyes are watery and you have a sore throat,  too. But, hey, it’s winter; what else can you expect in the thick of cold and  flu season, right? Maybe. But while you’re downing lozenges and soup broth,  consider this: Eye, nose and throat irritations, wheezing, coughing, skin rashes  and severe allergic reactions can result from extensive exposure to indoor air  pollution, which has also been linked to headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.

Indoor air pollution is in full effect during winter months especially, when  windows and doors are shuttered tight to keep the cold air out — but  inadvertently keeping bad air in, too. Toxins from cleaning supplies, mold, and  even the off-gassing of new paint all need to be circulated or  filtered out. To add insult to injury, houses more than 20 years old may harbor  lead-based paint or asbestos. All of this means indoor air quality can be many  times worse than outdoor!

Thankfully, we have control of our indoor air quality in ways we don’t have  outdoors. The best way to protect yourself and your family are by stopping  indoor air pollutants at the door:

  • Replace your central air and heating filters monthly. Clean the vents and  make sure they’re not blocked by furniture. HEPA filters are especially good at reducing allergens.
  • Make your home a no-smoking zone and consider restricting your pets from  certain rooms in the house (such as a nursery or bedroom) to keep sensitive  areas free of pet dander and tracked-in dirt.
  • Most store-bought candles contain harmful chemical components and artificial  scents that are released as the candle burns. Switch to natural candles,  such as beeswax and soy candles, or, better yet, use these directions to make your own using sand!
  • Many people do not realize the risks of a dirty chimney. Smoke backs up in a  sooty flue and is pushed back into the home. It is well worth the money to hire  a professional chimney sweep or the time to do it yourself. Follows these best burning practices — your family and Santa will  thank you.
  • Clean with nontoxic products. Vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice and a few  other natural ingredients can replace most chemical cleaners. While nontoxic  cleaning supplies are available in stores, these recipes are simple and cheap to make at home.
  • Remove your shoes at the door to avoid bringing outdoor pollutants  inside.
  • Vacuum carpets, rugs and upholstery often to remove dust, pet dander and  other pollutants. One company offers a “cradle-to-cradle” carpet that improves air  quality.

If we have to spend more hours indoors during the winter months, they should  at least be fresh ones. Follow these tips and you’re on your way to a home you  can feel good breathing deeply in. As with all things, it pays to be proactive:  Change the filters, sweep that chimney, employ an army of houseplants to filter air for you and release a (clean) sigh  of relief.

By Shelly Stonebrook

Shelley Stonebrook

Shelley Stonebrook is an Associate Editor at Mother  Earth News—North America’s most popular magazine about sustainable,  self-reliant living—where she works on exciting projects such as Organic  Gardening content and the Vegetable  Garden Planner. Shelley is particularly interested in organic gardening,  small-scale, local food production, waste reduction, food preservation and  cooking. In her spare time, she posts in her personal blog, The  Rowdy Radish.

Photo from Fotolia

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