City rankings are a curious thing. Take for example my hometown, Tacoma, Wash., which was ranked the “most sexually healthy city for women” by Self in 2006 and as America’s “most stressful city” in a 2004 survey. I guess Tacoma residents gotta take care of all that stress somehow, right?

There's no graceful way to segue from stress-related sexual healing in the Pacific Northwest to shuttered steel mils and chemical sludge in the Southeast so here it is: an article recently published in’s real estate section bestowed Atlanta, The Mother Nature Network's hometown, with a rather unsavory title: “America’s Most Toxic City.” Ouch.  

Atlanta — which, as I blogged about last week, is initiating a curbside recycling rewards pilot program and is not, for the record, one of MNN’s “15 Most Toxic Places to Live” — was the top (or bottom, how you look at it) ranking city out of 40 major American metro areas in the Forbes toxic city roundup. The rankings, based on EPA data, took into account four major “yuck factors”: the number of Superfund sites in the principal city, the number of facilities leaking toxic contaminants, the total number of pounds of toxins released into the air water, and earth, and the city’s 2007 air quality ranking. As the article points out, not just Atlanta proper is taken into consideration but the entire Atlanta metro area including highly industrialized Marietta and Sandy Springs.

I can’t speak directly to Atlanta’s supposed toxicity since I’ve only been to the city once. But I can say that during my visit I was overwhelmed by the verdant sprawl of the place (and all of the Peach-named streets) not by filthy air and questionable drinking water. Atlantans, what are your thoughts on the rankings? Keep in mind that this is all based on EPA data and not on arbitrary findings. 


So how did other metro areas fare? Detroit, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Los Angeles: not so well. If you live in Las Vegas, Sacramento, Riverside/ San Bernardino/Ontario, Austin, and yep, sexed-up, stressed-out Seattle/Tacoma you can rejoice in the fact that you live in the least toxic of the 40 cities.

New York City, my adopted home, did well. It, including northern New Jersey and Long Island, ranked 31st on the list. This is reassuring news for me considering that I live less than a mile from the Gowanus Canal (pictured below), once a Superfund site-in-consideration dubbed as “Brooklyn’s own aquatic Chernobyl.” Also, (sorry NJ) New Jersey’s bleak industrial wastelands aren’t too far off from where I live either.

Surprisingly, Portland, Ore., a city that always seems to top the list in “green” city rankings, is considered the 10th most toxic city.

Take a look at the article and then at the full list of rankings and an explanation of the methodology used. I also recommend checking out the comments section to see the debate that the article has sparked.

Finally, given that this is a real estate-based article being discussed on a home-centric blog, I feel like I should offer some advice even though this is a tricky issue extending beyond my scope. The best thing I can say is: be aware and be active. Toxic contamination can take many forms, not always blatant, so even if you don’t think that your own backyard is affected, it doesn’t hurt to be informed of various environmental issues in your area. Keep abreast with the activities of your city and/or local environmental watchdog groups. And most importantly, if you think something isn’t quite right with the air, water, or land around your home, don’t ignore it.

Via []

Photos: Waldo#4 (Atlanta), daCityDrifter (factory), Trey Wheeler (Gowanus)

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

The Toxic Peach
MNN's hometown, Atlanta, leads the pack in's rankings of America's Most Toxic Cities. How did your native or adopted city fare?