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Since moving to New York, I’ve been having trouble breathing. Is city air pollution to blame?

Source: European Space Agency.

The above image shows atmospheric nitrogen dioxide concentrations worldwide. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a mainly man-made gas, produced by the usual suspects: power plants, transportation, industry, and biomass burning. Lightning in the air, and microbes in soil, also create nitrogen dioxide.

The map clearly exposes some of the world’s known worst offenders–the East Coast megalopolis, London, Beijing–as well as some surprising pockets near Johannesberg and Eastern Kazhakstan.

Continued exposure to NO2 can cause lung damage and respiratory problems. NO2 levels in the U.S. are usually too low to cause any direct harm; unfortunately, NO2 also leads to the production of ozone in the lower atmosphere, an excess of which can heighten allergen sensitivity and cause temporary breathing difficulties.

How does air quality in the New York City compare to other places across the country? Not exactly as I expected…

Here are some Air Quality Indices for several locations across the U.S: New York, the location of ScienceBlogs Headquarters; Coos County, New Hampshire (my former home); Los Angeles, the smog capital of the U.S.; and Portland, OR, Katherine’s former stomping grounds. I also threw in Beijing, for comparison.

As for the labored breathing, it looks like I can’t blame my recent move. The Northeast appears to be our nation’s tailpipe, whether you live in the Northern Forest, or under the Brooklyn Bridge.

AQI in American and Chinese Cities, 2006
Percent of Days When AQI Was…
Good Moderate Poor
New York 91.4 7.6 1.0
Northern NH 91.6 8.4 0.0
Los Angeles, CA 40.5 47.1 9.1
Portland, OR 97.0 3.0 0.0
Beijing 4.2 56.1 29.1