A city with polluted air

A Look Back on The Air We Breathe: 2023 Air Quality

In 2023, air quality remained a critical environmental and public health issue across the United States. The Annual Air Quality Index (AQI) report provides a comprehensive overview of air quality across various U.S. cities, offering valuable insights into the days classified as having good or bad air quality and the cities’ median AQI levels. By examining the data, we can identify which cities enjoyed the cleanest air and which faced significant air quality challenges.

Impact from Wildfires

The wildfires of 2023 had a significant impact on air quality in the United States, exacerbating a trend of deteriorating conditions due to increasing instances of wildfire smoke. 324,917 acres burned in California, causing significant air pollution.

The 2023 wildfires in Canada were also particularly impactful, creating smoke waves that affected air quality far beyond the Canadian borders, reaching into the U.S. and causing a notable degradation in air quality across several states.

Research highlights that fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which can deeply penetrate the lungs and enter the bloodstream, has been on the rise due to wildfire smoke. Previously declining outdoor concentrations of PM2.5, a trend largely attributed to the Clean Air Act of 1963 and its amendments, have either slowed or reversed in as many as 35 states between 2000 and 2016 due to wildfire smoke​​.

Cities with the Most “Good Air Quality” Days

The year 2023 saw several cities standing out for their commendable air quality, as measured by the number of days classified as having good AQI. Leading the pack, cities like Kingman, AZ, Bangor, ME, and Price, UT showcased an impressive record of good air quality days. The visualization of the top 10 cities with the most good air quality days highlighted areas where citizens could breathe easier, thanks to lower recorded pollution levels.

Graph showing the US cities with the most good days of air quality

Cities Facing Air Quality Challenges

Conversely, the report also shed light on cities that experienced a higher number of days with bad air quality, including days rated as unhealthy, very unhealthy, or hazardous. These cities grappled with significant pollution issues (in some cases largely due to wildfire smoke). Interestingly enough, we see the Phoenix metro area as the second worst air quality, yet communities such as Lake Havasu City and Nogales, AZ saw some of the best air quality ratings.

Graph showing the US cities with the most poor days of air quality

Highest and Lowest Median AQI

Delving deeper into the data, the analysis also explored cities based on their median AQI, offering insights into average air quality levels throughout the year. Cities with the highest median AQI were identified as areas with consistent air quality concerns, requiring ongoing attention and efforts to mitigate pollution sources. On the other hand, cities with the lowest median AQI emerged as examples of environmental success stories, where air quality was consistently maintained at safer levels.

Graph showing the best median Air Quality Index cities in the US
Graph showing the worst median Air Quality Index cities in the US

Implications and the Way Forward

The findings from the 2023 Annual AQI report highlight the varied air quality experiences across U.S. cities. While some cities boast clean air and low pollution levels, others continue to struggle with high AQI values, in some cases due to struggles with wildfires, impacting public health and quality of life.

As we move forward, the data serves as both a benchmark and a guide for cities aiming to improve their air quality. It emphasizes the need for sustainable practices, pollution and wildfire control measures, and public awareness campaigns to ensure that more cities can achieve good air quality days, reducing the overall health risks associated with air pollution.

Owner / FounderDerek Gaughan
Derek is the owner and lead content producer for Air Koality. His primary focus is on reviewing residential air quality monitors and air purifiers. An alumni of Pennsylvania State University, he holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Sciences and an MBA with a focus on Information Systems. He also completed The EPA Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Master Class Professional Training, in addition to passing the Mainstream IAQ certification.

Expertises: air quality, IAQ

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