These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet

Here are 25 most air-polluted cities in the world according to data gathered by WHO in 2016.

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
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In 2016, the World Health Organization released information on the most air-polluted cities in the world. Most of these are situated in the Middle East and Indian subcontinent with levels, in some cases, almost 10 times the recommended maximum 'safe limit' for air pollution

Using data supplied by WHO, the following list is in increasing order from lowest to highest in regards to recorded, or corrected for, μg/m3 of 2.5 PM. 

Explanatory Notes on WHO Data:

The levels of air pollution from the WHO's database come in two forms PM 2.5 (as recorded) and PM 10. Where PM 2.5 measurements are unavailable PM 10 reading have been converted. 

PM 2.5 relates to any fine particulate matter that is less than 2.5 microns in diameter. PM 10 defines any particles that are less than 10 microns in diameter. These particles include things like organic dust, airborne bacteria, construction dust, and coal particles from power plants etc.

In high-income countries, PM 2.5 measurements tend to be widely performed. In many low and middle-income countries, while PM 2.5 measures are still not available, there have been large improvements over the last years.

These two types of measurement are significant as PM2.5 measurements are a good method of estimating pollution's impact on human health

For reference, the World Health Organization states that an acceptable 'safe limit' of 2.5 PM should not exceed 25 μg/m3. Above this level can cause a rise in pollution-related respiratory ailments, such as lung cancerasthmadysentery, and diarrhea.

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Source: EPA

25. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Narayangonj, Bangladesh

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 105.79

Year of Recording: 2014

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: Measured PM 2.5 data

Data source: Ministry of Environment and Forests, Clean Air and Sustainable Environment

Description: Narayangonj is located in east-central Bangladesh and sits astride the banks of the Sitalakhya River at its confluence with the Dhaleswari River. This city is one of the country's busiest ports and trade markets. 

It also has a large concentration of industry concerned with jute presses and cotton milling, metal and chemical production and other processes.

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Image Source: Abu Nayeem/Wikimedia Commons

24. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Hengshui, The People's Republic of China

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 106.67

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Year of Recording: 2014

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: Measured PM 2.5 data

Data source: The People's Republic of China National Environmental Monitoring Center

Description: Hengshui is located in the southeast of the Chinese Hebei Province. The city is home to some of China's growing industrial sector with its large chemical factory feeding the province's booming economy. 

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Hengshui's City Hall. Source: 王云峰/Wikimedia Commons

23. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Rawalpindi, Pakistan

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 107.00

Year of Recording: 2010

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: Measured PM 2.5 data

Data source: Alam K, et al. Aerosol size distribution and mass concentration measurements in various cities of Pakistan, J. Environ. Monit., 2011, 13, 1944

Description: Rawalpindi is an industrial city in Pakistan that houses large amounts of steel rolling mills, leather tanning facilities, marble factories as well as oil refineries. These industries have all contributed to the high levels of air pollution recorded in the past.

It was the capital of Pakistan between 1959 and 1969

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Rawalpindi railway station. Source: Abdul Rehman Amjad/Wikimedia Commons

22. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: (Mandi) Gobindgarh, India

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 107.61

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Year of Recording: 2012

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: converted from PM10

Data source: Open Government Data (OGD) Platform India

Description: Mandi Gobindgarh's high pollution levels are the result of the city's booming steel industry. The city is located in the Indian region of Punjab and is the world's 22nd most populated city in the world (according to WHO data).

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Gobindgarh Fort. Source: Harvinder Chandigarh/Wikimedia Commons

21. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Amritsar, India

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 108.15

Year of Recording: 2012

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: converted from PM10

Data source: Open Government Data (OGD) Platform India

Description: Amritsar in India is a hotspot for tourists and Sikh 'pilgrims' who flock to the city to visit its famous Harmandir Sahib or Golden Temple. It is located in Northwestern India and lies about 25 km East of the border with Pakistan.

Amritsar is the largest and most important city in Punjab and is a major commercial, cultural, and transportation center.

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Source: Durgiana Temple in Amritsar. Source: Guilhem Vellut/Wikimedia Commons

20. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Peshawar, Pakistan

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 111.00

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Year of Recording: 2010

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: Measured PM 2.5 data

Data source: Alam K, et al. Aerosol size distribution and mass concentration measurements in various cities of Pakistan, J. Environ. Monit., 2011, 13, 1944

Description: Peshawar in Pakistan used to be the capital of the ancient Buddhist kingdom of Gandhara. It was later a great historical center for the caravan trade with Afganistan and Central Asia.

Today it is home to many industries from textiles to sugar mills to copper working and small arms manufacture. 

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Peshawar Museum. Source: Khalid Mahmood/Wikimedia Commons

19. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Handan, The People's Republic of China

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 111.75

Year of Recording: 2014

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: Measured PM 2.5 data

Data source: The People's Republic of China National Environmental Monitoring Center

Description: Handan is a city in the southern Hebei province of China. The city was first recorded in 500 BC and was the famed capital of the state of Shao between 386 and 228 BC

In recent years it has undergone significant industrial growth with the most significant industry being coking coal, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Source: Fanghong/Wikimedia Commons

18. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Lucknow, India

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 112.86

Year of Recording: 2012

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: converted from PM10

Data source: Open Government Data (OGD) Platform India

Description: Lucknow is the capital of Uttar Pradesh state in Northern India. It is situated at the junction of many roads and rail lines an is close to Chaudhary Charan Singh International Airport. 

All these links make it an important site of trade and industry like food processing, manufacture, and railroad works. 

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
ENGG College in Lucknow. Source: Salmanafaque/Wikimedia Commons

17. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Firozabad, India

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 113.33

Year of Recording: 2012

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: converted from PM10

Data source: Open Government Data (OGD) Platform India

Description: Firozabad is another large city in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It is also known locally as the 'City of Glass Suhag Nagari'.

The city's air pollution is largely blamed on its burgeoning industry that may also be the cause of local acid rain. 

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These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Source: BishkekRocks/Wikimedia Commons

16. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Khanna, India

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 113.77

Year of Recording: 2012

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: converted from PM10

Data source: Open Government Data (OGD) Platform India

Description: Khanna is located is a city, and municipal council, in the Ludhiana district of Punjab in India. Its name means one quarter in Punjabi and was so-called as it used to be very small. 

The city has one of the largest grain markets in Asia and its history stretches back at least 500 years

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Jain Mandir in Khanna. Source: Raghbirkhanna/Wikimedia Commons

15. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Kanpur, India

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 114.91

Year of Recording: 2012

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: converted from PM10

Data source: Open Government Data (OGD) Platform India

Description: Kanpur (formerly Cawnpore) is a city on the central southwestern Uttar Pradesh state of India. When the territory was acquired by the British in 1801 Kanpur was a humble village - it would quickly become a frontier station for the Empire.

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Kanpur is the second most populous city in Uttar Pradesh, after Lucknow, and its urban agglomeration is among the largest in India.

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Source: Klaus Nahr/Wikimedia Commons

14. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Shijiazhuang, The People's Republic of China

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 120.63

Year of Recording: 2014

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: Measured PM 2.5 data

Data source: Clean Air Asia, primary source: National Bureau of Statistics, The People's Republic of China; The People's Republic of China National Environmental Monitoring Center

Description: Shijiazhuang is the capital of the Chinese province (sheng) of Hebei in NE China. It is situated just south of the Hutuo River and at the foot of the Taihang Mountains. 

A relatively new city (established in 1939), it became the region's capital in 1968. The city grew massively under panned industrialization post-WW2 and the population trebled between 1948 and 1958

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Source: Khalidshou/Wikimedia Commons

13. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Dammam, Saudi Arabia

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 120.86

Year of Recording: 2014

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: converted from PM10

Data source: Official communication from Saudi Arabia

Description: Dammam is the capital city of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. It is a major administrative center for the country's oil industry and is the sixth largest city in Saudi Arabia. 

The city has two major industrial zones housing more than 260 factories and ancillary structures and another 160, or so, under construction. The plants manufacture a variety of consumer and industrial goods for domestic and international markets.

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Source: Abhijitvarghese/Wikimedia Commons

12. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Ludhiana, India

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 121.94

Year of Recording: 2012

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: converted from PM10

Data source: Open Government Data (OGD) Platform India

Description: Ludhiana is a city and a municipal corporation in Ludhiana district in the Indian state of Punjab, and India's largest city north of Delhi. The city ranked as India's best city for business by the World Bank between 2009 and 2013. 

Its main contribution to the Indian economy is its booming industrial sector that has earned it the nickname of "India's Manchester". 

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Source: Sunnysingh211/Wikimedia Commons

11. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Delhi, India

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 122.11

Year of Recording: 2013.2

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: Measured PM 2.5 data

Data source: Central Pollution Control Board India, Environmental Data Bank; Atmospheric Research 166: 223–232 (2015); U.S. Department of State, Mission Air Quality; Open Government Data (OGD) Platform India

Description: Delhi is the national capital of India. The city actually consists of two components - Old Delhi (this historical city) to the North and New Delhi to the South. It only became the capital in 1947.

According to legend, the city was named for Raja Dhilu, a king who reigned in the region in the 1st century BCEUnsurprisingly, the city is one of India's largest urban centers and is a hub for business and industry. 

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Source: Sumita Roy Dutta/Wikimedia Commons

10. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Baoding, The People's Republic of China

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 126.00

Year of Recording: 2014

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: Measured PM 2.5 data

Data source: The People's Republic of China National Environmental Monitoring Center

Description: Baoding is a city in the southwestern-central Hebei province (sheng) in China. The area has been a place of settlement for a long time with a history stretching back to at least the Qin Dynasty in the 3rd Century BC.

It has a large industrial sector that fabricates machinery, auto parts, electronics, chemicals, building material, textiles, paper, and processed foods. A high-technology industrial park was established there in 1992.

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Source: Vardion/Wikimedia Commons

9. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Xingtai, The People's Republic of China

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 128.00

Year of Recording: 2014

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: Measured PM 2.5 data

Data source: The People's Republic of China National Environmental Monitoring Center

Description: Xingtai is another city within the Hebei sheng or province in China. It is one of the oldest settlements in China with evidence of occupation as long ago as 1600 BC. Today Xingtai is a large local market and commercial center on the main train line between Beijing and Zhengzhou. 

Its main economy is centered around its large industrial sector that produces large amounts of metallurgy, machines and textiles.

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Qiaodong, Xingtai. Source: 陈宏宇/Wikimedia Commons

8. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Bamenda, Cameroon

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 132.00

Year of Recording: 2012

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: Measured PM 2.5 data

Data source: J. Antonel, Z. Chowdhury (2014), Atmospheric Environment 95, 344-354

Description: Located in Northwestern Cameroon, Bamenda serves as a trade and export center for the local areas main produce - hides, coffee and tobacco. It has a population of around 1,000,000 and it is known for its relatively cool climate and scenic hilly location.

It was formed through the merger of seven villages and was, until the end of WW1, under German Occupation since the 19th Century

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Source: Amcaja/Wikimedia Commons

7. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Raipur, India

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 143.66

Year of Recording: 2012

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: converted from PM10

Data source: Open Government Data (OGD) Platform India

Description: Raipur is the largest city in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh (formerly the Madhya Pradesh before 2000). The city is a mainly food-processing economy with rice, wheat, cotton, oilseed, and sawmills being its main industries.

Other industries include hand-loom weaving, furniture making, and the manufacture of machinery, cigarettes, aluminum, and brass and bell-metal products.

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Swami Vivekananda Airport, Raipur. Source: Ambuj.kulshresth/Wikimedia Commons

6. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Patna, India

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 148.94

Year of Recording: 2013

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: Measured PM 2.5 data

Data source: Central Pollution Control Board India, Environmental Data Bank

Description: Patna is the capital city of Bihar state in Northern India. It is situated around 470 kilometers NW of Kolkata (Calcutta) and is one of the oldest cities in India and had a population of 1.68 million in 2011.

It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world and is thought to have been founded in 490 BC. Its air pollution of 149 μg/m3 is six times greater than the declared 'safe limit' of 25 μg/m3 set by WHO which is generated from the large concentration of vehicles and industry in the city.

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Source: Shivamsetu/Wikimedia Commons

5. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 151.71

Year of Recording: 2014

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: converted from PM10

Data source: Official communication from Saudi Arabia

Description: Al Jubail is one of the largest industrialized city in the Middle East, if not the world. it is located in the Eastern province of the Persian Gulf on the coast of Saudi Arabia.

It is also home to the Middle East's largest and world's fourth largest petrochemical company.

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Al Jubail from space. Source: NASA/Wikimedia Commons

4. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 155.51

Year of Recording: 2014

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: converted from PM10

Data source: Official communication from Saudi Arabia

Description: Riyad, or Al-Riyāḍ, is the capital city of Saudi Arabia and its most heavily populated city. Originally a spatially isolated town it exploded into the modern metropolis it is from the 1940's onwards.

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Source: Jack Soma/Wikimedia Commons

3. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Allahabad, India

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 169.72

Year of Recording: 2012

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: converted from PM10

Data source: Open Government Data (OGD) Platform India

Description: Allahabad is an Indian city located in the Nothern Uttar Pradesh state in the North of India. the present incarnation of the city dates to around 1583 and was founded by the Mughal emperor Akbar, who named it al-Ilahābād (“City of God”).

The city is also home to glass and wire-based industry. The main industrial areas of Allahabad are Naini and Phulpur, where several public and private sector companies have offices and factories.

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Yamuna river, Allahabad. Source: Ichattopadhyaya/Wikimedia Commons

2. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Gwalior, India

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 176.14

Year of Recording: 2012

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: converted from PM10

Data source: Open Government Data (OGD) Platform India

Description: Gwalior city, located in the Northern Madhya Pradesh state of central India is the world's second most air-polluted city in the world. It is a cultural, industrial, and political center and takes its name from the historic rock fortress that forms the center of the city.

The city is surrounded by three major industrial areas Sitholi, Banmore, and Malanpur. 

These 25 Cities Have the Most Polluted Air on Planet
Former central press, Gwalior. Source: YashiWong/Wikimedia Commons

1. The World's Most Air-Polluted Cities: Zabol, Iran (the Islamic Republic of)

The City's Annual Mean PM 2.5 Air Pollution Level (μg/m3): 216.67

Year of Recording: 2012

PM2.5 or PM10 Details: converted from PM10

Data source: Department of Environment

Description: Zabol is the capital city of Zabol County within the Sistan and Baluchestan Province of Iran.

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It is situated close to the border with Afghanistan and is the world's most air-polluted city in the world. 

Zabol is well known for its so-called "120-day wind" that is a highly persistent dust storm that ravages the city during the summer.

A 2017 study in the journal Preventive Medicine suggested that the harm from 30 minutes of cycling outdoors in Zabol's polluted air would outweigh the benefits of the exercise.

So this leads to the obvious question... What is the least air-polluted city on Earth? According to WHO data that award goes to Sinclair, Carbon County, Wyoming with an ultra-low level of 3 μg/m3. 

Via: WHO

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