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Cities with the dirtiest air in the world

  • Cities with the dirtiest air in the world

    With problems of climate change being exacerbated in the past 10 to 15 years, the air quality of urban dwellers is at risk more than ever before. Some adverse effects of poor air quality can be as severe as stroke, lung cancer, and chronic pulmonary disease, or even premature death. Unfortunately, there are many cities around the globe—most of which are concentrated in the Middle East and India—where air quality is so poor that it is extremely unhealthy. The top three countries with the most polluted cities are India with 11, Bahrain with four, and Pakistan with three.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) monitors this air quality closely and ranks cities based on ambient (outdoor) air quality, based on two measures. The first is mean particulate matter between 2.5 and 10 micrometers in the air, known as coarse air quality (PM10), and the second is mean particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in the air, known as fine air quality (PM2.5). Both metrics are measured in micrograms per cubic meter of air (ug/m3). The database covers 4,300 cities in 108 countries.

    According to the WHO, as air quality declines, the risk of fatal illness and diseases such as stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma, increases. Like the food we eat and the water we drink, the air we breathe affects our short and long-term health.

    To compile the following list, Stacker took data from WHO's 2018 list and measured each of the top 25 cities with the worst air quality for PM10 and PM2.5. In the case of a tie in terms of PM10, the tie was broken by the city with a higher annual mean PM2.5 amount.

    Read on to find out which cities have the dirtiest air in the world and which have increased, even incrementally, the quality of their ambient air in the past few years.

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  • #25. Lahore, Pakistan

    - Average annual coarse particulate matter (PM10): 198 ug/m3 (9.9 times above WHO guidelines)
    - Average annual fine particulate matter (PM2.5): 68 ug/m3 (6.8 times above WHO guidelines)

    The air quality in Lahore, Pakistan, is affected by diesel emissions, crop burning, and industrial emissions, among other sources. The smog there is so bad that it has caused a “fifth season” with only two blue sky days in 2017.

  • #24. Ali Sabah Al-Salem, Kuwait

    - Average annual coarse particulate matter (PM10): 198 ug/m3 (9.9 times above WHO guidelines)
    - Average annual fine particulate matter (PM2.5): 94 ug/m3 (9.4 times above WHO guidelines)

    According to a January 2015 journal article about the major pollutants in Ali Sabah Al-Salem, Kuwait, petroleum refineries and petrochemical industries, as well as highway traffic, contributed to the large amounts of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in the air. This suburban area located south of Kuwait City has seen its population struggle with such respiratory issues as asthma, emphysema, and acute bronchitis.

  • #23. Gobindgarh, India

    - Average annual coarse particulate matter (PM10): 201 ug/m3 (10.05 times above WHO guidelines)
    - Average annual fine particulate matter (PM2.5): 108 ug/m3 (10.8 times above WHO guidelines)

    Gobindgarh is one of the three cities in the region to be recorded on the worst Air Quality Index list as of June 2018, along with Khanna and Ludhiana. Low-level dust storms were found to be the cause of the poor air quality in this case as well as industrial pollution and a dry weather spell.

  • #22. Amritsar, India

    - Average annual coarse particulate matter (PM10): 202 ug/m3 (10.1 times above WHO guidelines)
    - Average annual fine particulate matter (PM2.5): 108 ug/m3 (10.8 times above WHO guidelines)

    Amritsar, India, is a draw for tourists and Sikh devotees alike because of its nearly 430-year-old Golden Temple. Unfortunately, it is also ranked among the top 30 cities in the world for its pollution, in part because of its growing tourism and hotel industries, and poor waste management.

  • #21. Narayanganj, Bangladesh

    - Average annual coarse particulate matter (PM10): 205 ug/m3 (10.25 times above WHO guidelines)
    - Average annual fine particulate matter (PM2.5): 94 ug/m3 (9.4 times above WHO guidelines)

    Five of the top 10 causes of death in Bangladesh are related to air pollution, according to WHO, and Narayanganj is the most polluted among the cities there. It received a rating of 565 on the Air Quality Index (AQI), and air pollution worsens in the dry months of October to April when minimal rainfall makes matters worse.


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  • #20. Firozabad, India

    - Average annual coarse particulate matter (PM10): 212 ug/m3 (10.6 times above WHO guidelines)
    - Average annual fine particulate matter (PM2.5): 113 ug/m3 (11.3 times above WHO guidelines)

    Firozabad, known for its thriving glass industry and its location in proximity to the Taj Mahal, suffers the effects of its industry in its polluted air. The City of Bangle, as it is known, is held partially responsible for the corrosion of the Taj Mahal because of its production of sulphur dioxide. Recent measures taken by the Supreme Court of India to monitor the emissions were met with resistance.

  • #19. Khanna, India

    - Average annual coarse particulate matter (PM10): 212 ug/m3 (10.6 times above WHO guidelines)
    - Average annual fine particulate matter (PM2.5): 114 ug/m3 (11.4 times above WHO guidelines)

    Environmental experts have been concerned with the levels of air pollution in Khanna for years, caused by vehicle exhaust, agricultural pollutants, and industrial emissions. The city has actually fallen in the rankings of most polluted cities in the past few years.

  • #18. Muzaffarpur, India

    - Average annual coarse particulate matter (PM10): 214 ug/m3 (10.7 times above WHO guidelines)
    - Average annual fine particulate matter (PM2.5): 197 ug/m3 (19.7 times above WHO guidelines)

    As recently as November 2018, preventative measures were being taken to improve the air quality in Muzaffarpur, India, where the AQI reached as high as 445 that month. Officials attributed the issue to road dust, brick kilns, and construction activities, among other factors.

  • #17. Ludhiana, India

    - Average annual coarse particulate matter (PM10): 228 ug/m3 (11.4 times above WHO guidelines)
    - Average annual fine particulate matter (PM2.5): 122 ug/m3 (12.2 times above WHO guidelines)

    As recently as 2011, Ludhiana was ranked by the WHO as India's most polluted city. It has fallen in the rankings since then, but the city and its coal-burning power plants still create highly unhealthy conditions.

  • #16. Nabih Saleh, Bahrain

    - Average annual coarse particulate matter (PM10): 244 ug/m3 (12.2 times above WHO guidelines)
    - Average annual fine particulate matter (PM2.5): 58 ug/m3 (5.8 times above WHO guidelines)

    Industrial vehicle emissions, sandstorms, and drought combine to create some of the most polluted cities in the Middle East in Bahrain. Nabih Saleh is no exception.

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