Forbes magazine in a list released this week named the Philadelphia metropolitan area the third dirtiest in the country.
The ranking of 20 metropolitan areas is based on Environmental Protection Agency data on air pollution – which factors in the presence of pollutants like carbon monoxide, lead and volatile organic chemicals – and watershed quality, whose indicators include the presence of pollutants, sediments and toxic releases. The list also takes into account the number of toxic waste dump sites in the regions.
“These cities suffer from high levels of ozone, sulfur dioxide, air-borne particulates and tap water so polluted you can’t (or shouldn’t) drink it,” the introduction to the list reads. “This is the harsh, lung-searing, rash-inducing reality for millions of people in some of America’s biggest cities.”
Forbes assigned each region air and water quality indexes between one and 100, with one being the poorest and 100 the best. Philadelphia’s air quality index came in at 22, while its water quality scored a measly 12.
According to Forbes, the Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington metro area is particularly toxic due to its location on the Delaware River, “which has been lined with refineries and chemical plants for decades.” The region has 18.5 million pounds a year of toxic releases – 7.2 million pounds of which are discharged into the water.
The list also points to the region’s superfund sites – areas where toxic waste has been dumped and designated for cleanup by the EPA. Forbes mentions, in particular, the four-acre Franklin Slag Pile of copper byproduct near Castor and Delaware avenues in Port Richmond and the Martin Aaron site containing contaminated soil in Camden, N.J.
Somewhat surprisingly, the two cities that beat Philly out for the nation’s filthiest are both located in California. Bakersfield, described as the state’s oil capital, has the worst air pollution in the nation – its air quality index is one, though its water quality still ranks higher than Philly’s, with an index of 42.
The Fresno-Madera metropolitan area took the top toxic prize due to agriculture-polluted groundwater and what the American Lung Association has named the fifth worst year-round particle pollution in the country. Its air quality index is one, while its water quality index is 22.
Rounding out the lower end of the list is the Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor metro area, which came in at number 19 for its long history of air-polluting manufacturing and current presence of a toxin-emitting metals plant. Its air quality index is 29 and its water quality index is 35.
The 20th and lowest-scoring region on the list is St. Louis, which houses the third-largest inland port and more than 150 industrial sites. Its air quality clocked in at 24 and its water quality scored a 44.