Space Needle with low cloudsPhoto: Peter Davis via FlickrIf Seattle were an 8th grader, she’d probably be grounded right now. And considering the poor scores the city received on its air quality report card (an F for ozone pollution and a C for particulates), it might not be a bad idea if we all stay inside for a while.

Issued by the American Lung Association, the “State of the Air” report [PDF] analyzes data from 2005-2007 for the two most common pollutants in cities and counties across the country. They found that six in 10 Americans live in areas where air pollution is high enough to endanger lives — damaging lungs, exacerbating asthma, and increasing the risk for heart attacks, stroke, and premature death.

The cities receiving the dubious distinction of most polluted were Pittsburgh (short-term particulate pollution), Bakersfield, Calif. (year-round particulate pollution), and Los Angeles (ozone pollution), while Fargo, N.D., was the only city to be named one of the cleanest in all three categories. (Which leads me to wonder which is worse: realizing how bad your air is or that you live in Fargo?)

But not to worry, the poor marks for Seattle and other cities can be partially attributed to a recent change in the EPA’s standards, says Janice Nolen of the Lung Association. “[It] does not necessarily mean the air is getting dirtier. It means we’ve had unhealthy air all along.” Brilliant! I feel so much (cough, hack, cough) better!

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Here’s a rundown of the top bottom most-failingest five in each pollution category:

Short-term particle pollution

  1. Pittsburgh, Pa.
  2. Fresno, Calif.
  3. Bakersfield, Calif.
  4. Los Angeles, Calif.
  5. Birmingham, Ala.

Year-round particle pollution

  1. Bakersfield, Calif.
  2. Pittsburgh, Pa.
  3. Los Angeles, Calif.
  4. Visalia, Calif.
  5. Birmingham, Ala.

Ozone pollution

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  1. Los Angeles, Calif.
  2. Bakersfield, Calif.
  3. Visalia, Calif.
  4. Fresno, Calif.
  5. Houston, Texas