See the Worst Place to Breathe in America

by dtlange

TIME

If you think about smog, you’re probably picturing a major city like Los Angeles, where in the 1960’s and 70’s the air was so bad that smog alerts telling people to avoid outdoor activity were regular occurrences. The air has improved in L.A. and other big cities in recent years, thanks to cleaner cars and air pollution regulation.

But the real capital of air pollution in the U.S. is a farming city that sits to the northwest of L.A: Bakersfield.

Bakersfield is in the San Joaquin Valley, a major agricultural area that stretches through much of California. The San Joaquin Valley contains some of the richest, most productive agricultural land in the country. But its geography—the valley is surrounded on all sides by mountains—creates a bowl that traps air pollution. Levels of soot and ozone—which in warm weather, which the valley has much of the year, can create smog—are some…

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