Please help me compare cities' air pollution.
April 13, 2021 3:08 PM   Subscribe

I like to be outside, and I like to be in walkable places, and I'd like to know which places have better air quality.

We lived in Chicago for 8 years, downtown, and I coughed all the time. It is likely this was from air pollution and walking near cars every day. Now that we're in St. Louis, when I walk in my neighborhood, it's not full of cars and doesn't seem as polluted, and I don't cough as much.

I'm trying to figure out with data why that is. I've googled air pollution and air quality and I know about and's air quality. They give me plots of the air quality on specific days, not raw data that I could play with or summary metrics that tell me what I want to know. Plus the data often says "good" and that wasn't true for me, or "8 bad air days since 2012" and that's not super helpful, either.

I want the overall air quality, and I want to be able to compare cities. I'd like to compare other cities, too, not just Chicago and St. Louis.

Is there a ranking like this? Overall air pollutant count? One that weights heavily on car exhaust, maybe? My context is US cities because I'm more likely to live in one of them than in another country, and this is a consideration.
posted by Ms Vegetable to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
FYI air quality is super-location specific. Like if you are 10 feet from a major/high traffic road it will be one thing, and 100 feet away different, 1000 feet away different yet, a mile away different yet, and so on.

So, just one thing to factor into your research. Even if you do find the raw data you are looking for, it is very specific the exact collection location.

I believe there is some research showing the wide variability, particularly in regards to distance from major thoroughfares.
posted by flug at 3:38 PM on April 13, 2021 [9 favorites]

Is the raw data you're looking for available via the AirNow API?
posted by meowzilla at 3:43 PM on April 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

City-data and Sperling’s Best Places both include air quality metrics, although they’re whole-city measures, not neighborhood-specific.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:44 PM on April 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The American Lung Association ranks cities by air pollution.
posted by pinochiette at 3:50 PM on April 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Seconding the American Lung Association report and AirNow. Keep in mind that if you're near a highway or refinery (etc.) the numbers will vary quite a lot.
posted by slidell at 8:42 PM on April 13, 2021

Best answer: Best I've found is Breezometer
posted by lapsang at 3:53 AM on April 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might also check out the Plume Labs app.

There's also something called PurpleAir that lets people set up their own, very local air quality monitoring system; might be worth poking around in to see if there's a network in an area you're interested in. Here's what it looks like in my hood.
posted by Bron at 9:18 AM on April 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

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