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Forbes Names Most Toxic US Cities

March 1, 2011

Topping the Forbes list of toxic cities in the US, Philadelphia comes out just ahead of Bakersfield and Fresno, California, according to a new study that looked at air and water quality in metropolitan areas. New York City and Baton Rouge LA rounded out the top five most toxic cities in the country.

“Philadelphia doesn’t have great air, but other cities have worst,” said Morgan Brennan, of Forbes.com, which conducted the report. “But the Philadelphia area has over 50 Superfund sites, really poor water quality, and a hefty amount of toxic releases,” Reuters reports.

Forbes.com examined 80 of America’s largest metropolitan areas, adding up the number of Superfund locations, unused areas which contain hazardous materials, along with the local Air Quality Index (AQI) and Toxics Release Index, a measure of how much toxic material is released, recycled or managed by local industries. The Philadelphia metropolitan area includes more than 50 Superfund sites.

The California cities receiving poor air quality scores in 2009 include Bakersfield with 43 days in which the AQI passed 100 on a 500-point scale, with zero being the best possible score. Fresno had 29 days in which the AQI passed 100, and Los Angeles had 14. Los Angeles captured the No. 6 spot on the list.

Most American cities can go an entire year without seeing the AQI pass 100.

“For the most part, just because a city ranks high for toxicity doesn’t directly mean that people in those areas are being exposed to or running the risks of cancers that are related to toxicity,” Brennan explains. “It’s very difficult to actually measure levels of exposure.”

“The good news is that most of these cities have some sort of initiative in place to improve air quality,” she continued. “A lot of cities in California have introduced clean air initiatives, for example.”

One of the most polluted waterways in the United States is Gowanus Creek Canal in Brooklyn. New York City is seeking to clean up that waterway. Philadelphia had the worst overall water quality of the cities examined.

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