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The air quality in Portland has become the worst in the world — with Seattle, Los Angeles and Denver also ranking up there with notoriously polluted places like Delhi and Shanghai.

Why it matters: Big-city residents often consider themselves smugly immune to the physical wreckage of calamities like wildfires, floods and hurricanes. The pernicious smoke now blanketing the splendid cities of our nation's Western spine is a reminder that no one is exempt from climate change.

Where it stands: The EPA maintains a map on its website of the current air quality across the U.S. As of Thursday morning, Portland, Denver, Seattle, Fresno and countless smaller metropolises were girded by contour bands that signified "unhealthy," "very unhealthy" and "hazardous" air.

  • From Vancouver to Tijuana, the ozone and air-quality situation looked grim.
  • The threat is particularly grievous for children, the elderly and people with conditions like asthma or heart or lung disease.
  • Cloth masks won't protect against dirty air from wildfires, but N95 respirators — when worn correctly — can help.

Flashback: It's unthinkable to most Americans that Portland — which for years was lovingly mocked in the series "Portlandia" for its hyper-liberal eco-values — now has the worst air in the world, with an air pollution level deemed "hazardous."

  • The Air Quality Index (AQI) in Portland recently measured a whopping 303, according to a firm called IQAir; the runner-up city, with a measurement of 170, was Hanoi.
  • You can see a table of the cities around the world with the dirtiest air and their AQI readings here. The current top 20 include Portland, Seattle, Delhi, Los Angeles, Denver, Shanghai and Lahore.

Silver lining: San Francisco's air quality is currently considered "good."

Go deeper

Air travel's COVID-created future

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Ann Ronan Pictures, Bettmann/Getty Images

A look at the future of air travel as we head into the Thanksgiving holiday week while coronavirus cases are surging and the CDC is urging Americans to avoid travel.

Updated 2 mins ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.

Alabama's new congressional map rejected by federal judges

The Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery. Photo: Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Federal judges on Monday night blocked Alabama's newly drawn congressional map and ordered the Republican-led State Legislature to create a new one that includes two districts, rather than the planned one.

Why it matters: "Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress," the panel of three judges wrote in their ruling.