Discover the Wisconsin Town With the State’s Worst Air Quality

Wide aerial shot of a dramatic, fiery sunrise over the Wisconsin State Capitol. Statue atop the dome appears to hold the rising sun.
© Szymon Raczkowiak/

Written by Nilani Thiyagarajah

Updated: June 21, 2023

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The air quality of a location may not be a topic that you consider too often. However, it can have a significant effect on your quality of life in an area. If the air quality is poor, this could increase the incidence of health problems, affect agriculture, etc.

If you live in the state of Wisconsin, you might wonder about the air quality in different parts of the Badger State. What is the town with the worst air quality in Wisconsin? Keep reading to find out!

What Makes Up an Air Quality Index Score?

Air quality index measurement

Air quality index measures the town with the worst air quality in Wisconsin.


The Air Quality Index, also known as AQI, is a measure of the level of air pollution in a certain area. The AQI measures the level of five major pollutants in the air. These pollutants are all regulated by the Clean Air Act. They include nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, ground-level ozone, and particle pollution.

An AQI for any given area can be between 0 and 100. The higher the number, the greater the pollution level. Values of 50 or below indicate good air quality in that area, while values of 301 and above indicate hazardous air quality. The higher the number, the more health concern exists as well.

The City with the Worst Air Quality in Wisconsin

Although there are fluctuations in the rankings, the town with the worst air quality in Wisconsin is Madison. This city has an AQI of 62. This indicates moderate air quality. All of the cities in Wisconsin have either good or moderate air quality, meaning the state is not dealing with an issue of poor air quality at all.

Following closely behind are the cities of Maple Bluff and Mount Horeb. These cities also have AQI scores in the moderate range.

Cities with moderate air quality have an AQI score of 51 to 100. In these locations, the air quality is considered acceptable, but there may be some risk for select groups of people. People who have unusual sensitivities to air pollution may be at risk.

Most Wisconsin towns have good air quality, with values between 0 and 50. This means that the air pollution in those areas does not pose a significant risk.

Background Information on Madison, Wisconsin

Madison is the capital of Wisconsin. It is also the county seat of Dane County. The population was 269,840, according to the 2020 census. By population, it is the largest city in the state. This city is about 77 miles west of Milwaukee and 122 miles northwest of Chicago, Illinois.

The city is named after President James Madison, one of the nation’s Founding Fathers. Native Americans inhabited this area for approximately 12,000 years before Europeans settled in the location.

The modern origins of the city started in 1829 when Judge James Doty bought 1,261 acres of land. In 1836, the Wisconsin Territory was established. Doty campaigned strongly for Madison to be the capital of the new state. Madison was established as a village in 1846 and remained the capital when Wisconsin officially became a state two years later.

The city of Madison has a total area of just over 94 square miles. Of this area, 76.8 square miles are land, and 17.2 square miles are water. One nickname for the city is “The City of Four Lakes,” as it is home to Lake Mendota and Lake Monona and just north of Lake Waubesa and Lake Kegonsa. These lakes are all connected to the Yahara River.

There are many bike trails in parks in the city of Madison. In fact, out of all of the 100 largest cities in the United States, Madison has the highest number of parks and playgrounds per capita. It is considered very bike friendly.

With an AQI of 62, Madison has moderate air quality, making it the town with the worst air quality in Wisconsin. Even though the air quality is acceptable, it makes sense that this city would have the worst air quality in the state, given that it has one of the largest populations. Humans contribute to air pollution with their activities, including industrial waste. 

Wildlife in Madison, Wisconsin

Lake Monona

You can visit many of the lakes and wildlife in Madison, the town with the worst air quality in Wisconsin.

©Sean Pavone/

There are many animals in Madison, Wisconsin. The whitetail deer is actually the official wildlife animal of the state. It is very common throughout the state of Wisconsin, including Madison. There are also foxes, rats, wild turkeys, and coyotes.

Birds that fly through this area include the American crow, blue jay, American robin, red-winged blackbird, and many others. There are also reptiles, such as painted turtles. Anyone visiting the area may also see amphibians, such as the American toad and American bullfrog.

How Poor Air Quality Can Impact Wildlife

There are many ways in which air pollution can affect wildlife in an area. It can reduce biodiversity, as plants and animals can sometimes end up going extinct in the area. Air pollution causes a variety of health problems, including heart issues, respiratory issues, and cancer. It also weakens the immune system, making animals more vulnerable to different diseases.

Animals can also change their behavior as a result of air pollution. Bees may abandon their hives, and some animals might alter their migration patterns. Overpopulation of species that are more resistant to air pollution may also be an issue. This could not only eliminate certain species but completely throw off the balance of the ecosystem.

Air pollution can alter animals’ habitats, contaminating water and soil. If the water becomes too acidic, some aquatic animals may not be able to function properly or even survive at all. Acid rain can also maximize the amount of heavy metal that falls into aquatic habitats. This can be toxic to fish and other animals.

Air pollutants, such as heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants can damage food supplies as well. When animals eat these contaminated foods, the pollutants can actually accumulate within the tissues of the animal. The contamination spreads as these animals are eaten by animals above them on the food chain.

Where is Madison, Wisconsin Located on a Map?

Madison is the capital city of Wisconsin, located west of Milwaukee. It is home to the Wisconsin State Capitol, situated on an isthmus between lakes Mendota and Monona. The city also features the Wisconsin Historical Museum, showcasing the state’s immigrant and farming history.

Here is Madison, Wisconsin on a map:

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