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Before You Move: Air Pollution And Dementia Risk

When you decide to move to a new city or state, you probably narrow down your initial search to places that fit your lifestyle. Then, you might research crime rate, health care, housing prices, and the quality of the schools. But what about air quality? Many people overlook this factor when choosing their new homes, but it might actually be more important than the others. In fact, air pollution could make the difference between solid or weak mental health as you age, making it worth your time to research before you move.

In the past few decades, the world has heard conflicting information about the effects of air pollution on people’s health. Some warn strongly that it could forever damage the body, while others dismiss the idea entirely. Could all the hype just be a hoax?

The Research Speaks for Itself

New research shows otherwise. In a recent study published in the Nature Journal Translational Psychology, authors Jiu-Chiuan Chen and Constantinos Sioutas found a surprising link between pollution and dementia.

They first researched the effects of pollution on female mice. The USC researchers used particle concentrators to mimic densely polluted cities and freeways.

Then, Chen and Sioutas studied data from over 3,000 older women participating in the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study. Since the women lived in a variety of conditions, they adjusted their findings for such factors as ethnicity and medical history.

You know what they found? Women from cities above the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard had a 92 percent greater chance of getting dementia. That’s a numbing percentage.

The USC professors will be looking into the effects on both men and women next. While the researchers admit they do need more testing, you have to agree about the odds. They don’t look good.

Should you take the risk and move to a top polluted city? That’s up to you. We’ll at least give you a heads up about some of those places, though.

Types of Air Pollution

So where does air pollution come from? This image, created by The American Lung Association, explains the sources of air pollution.

Sources of Air Pollution

You Might Not Want to Move Here

To truly take this research to heart, think about avoiding cities where thick toxins fill the air. Even with research that sheds light on the effects of pollution, you truly cannot know all the dangers involved. Here’s a few cities with heavy pollution you might want to avoid.

Los Angeles, California

 1st     Ozone

Last year, this popular Californian city once again made the American Lung Association’s list of most polluted cities in the US. Although the Los Angeles Times reported a decrease in levels recently, LA still has a long way to go. On the most polluted list, the city ranked high in ozone pollution caused by vehicles.

Among the other places listed in the report, at least six other California cities ranked in each of the three pollution categories.

Denver, Colorado

 8th     Ozone

While many love the Colorado mountains and state parks sitting close to home, residents and state officials have increasing concerns about the city’s current air quality. Last year, officials met to discuss reducing the polluted haze that has cut off visibility and even threatened wildlife in the state.

Spurring officials along in restoring the air, the Denver-Aurora area ranked 8th on the worst cities for ozone pollution. Until officials have progressed in cleaning the city’s air, you might want to steer clear for a while.

Dallas, Texas

 11th     Ozone

This popular neck of the US also ranked high on the American Lung Association’s list—11th to be exact. Dallas struggles specifically with ozone pollution, probably due to its size and hot climate. Sadly, the favored Texan city received a failing grade in air quality for 2016.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

 8th     Year-Round Particle Pollution

According to WESA, Pittsburgh’s news station, this Pennsylvania city ranked one point above the national average for air pollution. The entire state moved down in the rankings for short-term pollution but inched up for yearly pollution.

Pennsylvania itself battles toxins from hundreds of coal-burning plants. These plants border the Ohio River, sending tons of polluted smoke into the air. That said, the state has done a marvelous job offsetting these plants, and the Pittsburgh area has improved in recent years.

Cincinnati, Ohio

 14th     Year-Round Particle Pollution

While this major city has dropped in the rankings from 2015 considerably, the Cincinnati area still ranked 14th for year-round particle pollution.

The American Lung Association says it comes from several sources, including coal-powered plants, wood fires, and diesel engines. Focusing on these pollutants has helped Cincinnati gain some ground, but you should probably still avoid the area when possible.

Salt Lake City, UT

 6th     Short-Term Particle Pollution

As much as people love Salt Lake City, the city ranked 6th for the nation’s worst short-term particle pollution. It also struggles with ozone pollution that builds up in warmer regions. Across the board, Utah’s sunniest cities received failing grades for air quality, making it a corner of the US you might not want to visit.

You’ll Breathe Easier in These Cities

We don’t want to leave you in despair about the polluted cities you should avoid. After all, the United States’ air quality is improving.

Take a look at some of the clean cities you can move to in the US! The American Lung Association not only ranked polluted cities but also their clean counterparts in the 2016 State of the Air. We included a few pros you’ll love about living in these places too.

Montgomery, Alabama

 19th     Ozone

This historic city ranked high as one of the cleanest cities for ozone and short-term particle pollution.

If you’re a history buff that thrives on museums, festivals, and monuments, you would appreciate living here. It boasts a stretch of nineteenth century buildings in its downtown and houses the state capitol where Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous speech.

Syracuse, New York

 16th     Year-Round Particle Pollution

While other main cities proved less polluted in ozone or short-term pollution, the Syracuse-Auburn area actually ranked 16th for cleanest yearly pollution.

If you choose to spend life in the area, you’ll find activities that the whole family can enjoy. From historic sites like the Harriet Tubman House to parks and hiking trails to the local theater, the Merry Go Round Playhouse, you could definitely stay busy in this city.

Not sure about moving to the small city of Auburn? You're in luck! Upstate New York promises a breath of fresh air in the Utica-Rome, Elmira-Corning, and Albany-Schenectady areas too. These regions all ranked on the cleanest cities lists as well.

Salinas, California

 8th     Year-Round Particle Pollution

We couldn’t leave the Golden State out of the mix. While other California cities didn’t cut EPA and American Lung Association guidelines, Salinas actually ranked 8th as one of the cleanest in annual pollution!

This clean California gem offers a variety of activities from the usual theaters and restaurants to extreme tours. You can visit The Steinbeck House for a little history, opt for some parks and trails for exercise, and get some family excitement at Wild Things where you can feed and bathe the elephants. If you’re looking for a lovely city nestled in the California state, Salinas will give you joy and clean air all at the same time.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

 11th     Year-Round Particle Pollution

If you’re feeling down about the Salt Lake City ranking, you should look into this bustling area. Albuquerque-Santa Fe ranked 11th in cleanest annual pollution, and the city bursts with lively activities.

Take the family to museums on Spanish or Indian history, go on a scenic drive or hike, watch performances at the Santa Fe Opera House, or meander through the Albuquerque Botanic Gardens.

During any free weekend, you can easily fill your blank schedule with some new sight or activity in this sweet spot of the US.

Austin, Texas

 5th     Short-Term Particle Pollution

To brighten hopes for the big state, this Texan city ranked as one of the cleanest places for short-term pollution.

The city of Austin doesn’t fall short of things to do either. Its boutiques on South Congress Avenue and live music at Austin City Limits offer city life some entertainment.

If you love outdoor exercise, Zilker Metropolitan Park and Barton Springs Pool will give you a thrill. With these and many other attractions, USA Today gives its applause to this city that’s constantly rated as a best place to live.

Colorado Springs, Colorado

 19th     Short-Term Particle Pollution

This lovely, mountainous city ranked as one of the cleanest places for short-term particle pollution. While you don’t exactly see the city ranked in the other clean categories, it didn’t show up on the worst polluted lists either.

What would you love about Colorado Springs? If you enjoy hiking up mountains and exercising in general, this city is the place for you. You can jog through Garden of the Gods, challenge yourself up Pike’s Peak, and hit up picturesque local eateries in between.

Columbus, Ohio

 20th     Short-Term Particle Pollution

Another great spot to move, this lovely Ohio city ranked as one of the cleanest places for short-term pollution. Along with clean air, you’ll find beautiful parks such as the Scioto Mile and Schiller Park, a cheerful Ohio Stadium, a historic museum of art, and a preserved German village.

Whether you love live events or quiet walks, you’ll get a variety of experiences in this sprightly city.


Again, the United States has seen tremendous improvement in its air quality in the last decade. Still, you can only guess the harmful effects of pollution on you and your family’s health.

If you choose to take USC’s findings seriously, do your research about your new city. Then, you’ll feel good about letting your family enjoy life—and its clean air—in the great outdoors.

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