The 10 Most Polluted Cities On The Planet

There's only so much industry, overpopulation, and brainless, excessive exploitation of our resources that the Earth can handle. Reality check! A significant part of the world's population does not live in healthy environments. Industrial residues and emissions take their toll on the entire planet. Dozens of thousands of people are being poisoned each day by the very air they breathe. There are over 10 million people throughout the Globe living in highly polluted areas and suffering from different forms of cancer, respiratory and neurological problems, and many other long-term health problems.

Experts claim there is enough evidence to sustain the theory that pollution leads to lung cancer. Alongside asbestos and tobacco, pollution has been classified as the most dangerous carcinogen known to man. In 2010, around 223,000 people died of lung cancer caused by pollution. More than half of these deaths were recorded in China and East Asia. The World Health Organization reports that in 2012 alone, the health of seven million people worldwide has been gravely affected by pollution. It also reports that an estimated 1.34 million persons become the victims of pollution each year.

Cities with the most polluted air are not necessarily the world's biggest capitals, but rather heavily industrialized areas. What is pollution? Airborne particles that are less than 10 micrometers in diameter are referred to as particulate matter. According to the World Health Organization, the density of this particular matter should be less than 10 micrograms per cubic meter.

You thought the air in your city was unbreathable? Check these cities covered in smog and noxious fumes and think again. The pollution levels here are dozens of times greater than what would be considered normal. These are the cities with the most toxic air on the Globe, environmental nightmares that stand to show how dangerous man can be for our beloved, and often tormented planet.

Continue scrolling to keep reading

Click the button below to start this article in quick view

Start Now

10 La Oroya in Peru

Since 1922, Doe Run, an American mining company, has been polluting the city of La Oroya in Peru, ignoring the warnings of ecologists about irresponsibly dumping their waste in the area. The company representatives never even warned the inhabitants of La Oroya of the imminent danger of the mining activity in the area. As a result, the health of approximately 35,000 of the city's inhabitants is threatened. Main pollutants are sulphur dioxide, lead, copper, and zinc, all waste from excessive and uncontrolled mining. Quite alarmingly, 99% of all children born in the area show signs of lead poisoning. Most of them do not make it past the age of 6. At the same time, acid rain caused by sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere destroyed vegetation in the neighboring jungles, as well as crops.

9 Vapi in India

Vapi is an industrial city at the border of the so-called Industrial Belt of India, a heavily industrialized area stretching across the country. Located in the Indian state of Gujarat, Vapi is home to no less than 50 factories producing chemical fertilizers for the soil, petrochemical products, medicinal drugs, and paints. In addition to these pollutants, there are the residues of over 1,000 small workshops in the fields of pesticides and medicinal drugs. All these economical agents discharge their daily residues directly on the ground or in the neighboring lakes. As a result, doctors in the area signaled an increased incidence in respiratory problems and an alarming rate of spontaneous abortions in the area. An estimated 71,000 people are directly affected by chemical residues and heavy metal poisoning. Mercury levels in the city's main water sources is 96 times higher than the safety levels.

8 Norilsk in Russia

Located beyond the Arctic Circle, whoever expects to see immaculate snow in Norilsk is in for a surprise. Snow here becomes black even before it settles on the ground. Founded in 1935, Norilsk served as a Siberian slave labor camp. Now, it is the world center of heavy metal processing and the world's largest heavy metal melting complex, and as a consequence, the city with the most toxic smog in Russia. The air is polluted with sulphur dioxide, heavy metals like nickel, copper, lead, cobalt, selenium, and phenols, affecting an estimated 134,000 persons. Not a single blade of grass grows over an area of around 20 square miles. Contamination of the soil with heavy metals extends up to 40 miles from Norilsk. Over 4 million tons of copper, lead, cadmium, nickel, arsenic, zinc, and selenium are released into the air each day. Around 16% of newborn babies in the city die at birth, while adults suffer from complicated respiratory problems and different forms of cancer.

7 New Delhi in India

Experts believe India's air is among the worst in the world. With almost 10 million inhabitants, the number of vehicles in New Delhi went from 180,000 to 3.5 million over the last 30 years. Still, it is the coal-burning factories that are the main cause of pollution, producing 80% of the smog in the city. New Delhi has the highest concentration of particulate matter in the world, with an average 198 micrograms per cubic meter recorded per year. However, in January 2014, a measurement of particulate matter density reached the outstanding number of 500 micrograms per cubic meter. The numbers refer to a particulate matter that is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, posing a great threat as it can penetrate the lungs. Laden with microscopic toxic particles, New Delhi is home to some of the dirtiest air on the planet, more polluted than in Beijing.

6 Lahore in Pakistan

Air pollution is one of the main environmental concerns in Pakistan. The situation is particularly alarming in the second largest city in the country, Lahore. The city looks as if in twilight all year round. Traffic lights, headlamps, and fog lights are continuously turned on, even in the midst of day due to the thick smog enveloping the city. Mainly caused by vehicular and industrial emissions, dust from the neighboring desert also contributes to the rising pollution levels. There are over 700 industrial units causing problems, using mainly fossil fuel combustion and dumping and burning the toxic waste from power plants in the area. Particulate matter density here is 200 micrograms per cubic meter, 20 times higher than the safety levels. Doctors also reported rising levels of lead in the blood.

5 Sumgayit in Azerbaijan

In 2006, the Blacksmith Institute declared Sumgayit the most polluted city in the world. The peninsula on which the city is located, Absheron, was deemed the most polluted area in Azerbaijan. The city of Sumgayit is known for its children's graveyard, called the Baby Cemetery, which came to be due to the large number of babies born with severe malformations and intellectual disabilities, and who died at a tender age. There are an estimated 275,000 persons directly affected by pollution in the city. Main pollutants are organic chemical products, petrol, natural gases, and heavy metals, including mercury, the toxic waste of oil fields and petrochemical plants. Sumgayit was once the center of petrochemical industry in the USSR, counting 40 factories producing rubber, chloride, and pesticides. While they still operated, the factories in Sumgayit released approximately 120,000 tons of harmful debris into the air each year, which included mercury. While most factories have been shut down, the pollutants remain. Nowadays, the inhabitants are exposed to heavy metal, chemical products, and mercury poisoning on a daily basis. The death rate is 50% higher than in the rest of Azerbaijan, while children in Sumgayit suffer from a series of genetic disorders.

4 Dzerzhinsk in Russia

The heritage of the Cold War armament program left a black stain on the Soviet Union. Dzerzhinsk was once the soviet center of chemical weapons manufacturing. Today, around 300,000 people are affected by the remnants of the Cold War, as they are still exposed to chemical and other adjacent products from weapon manufacturing, like sarin and VX gases, lead, and phenols. Between 1930 and 1998, around 300,000 tons of chemical waste have been improperly dumped in the city, which include some of the most dangerous neurotoxins known to man. The city's waters present dioxins and phenols levels are 17 million times higher than the safe limit. The groundwater is contaminated with around 200 potentially lethal chemical substances. In 2003 alone, the death rate in Dzerzhinsk exceeded the birth rate by 260%. Sadly, life expectancy in Dzerzhinsk is only 42.

3 Linfen in China

Minuscule particles of ash, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide, arsenic, and lead from vehicle and industrial emissions pose a potentially imminent threat to the health of approximately three million inhabitants in the city of Linfen in the heart of China's coal belt. The hills in the vicinity of the city are dotted with both legal and illegal mines, filling up the air with burning coal, the worst air in the country. Don't even think about hanging you laundry out to dry. It will become dark in an instant. Located in the Shaanxi province, Linfen holds the sad record of being the most polluted city in China, producing around one third of the country's energy. Inhabitants are forced to inhale a series of toxic substances from the hundreds of factories, mines, and refineries found on the city's outskirts. Plus, the rising number of vehicles has lead to the highest arsenic levels ever found in the atmosphere of a city throughout the world. In consequence, residents suffer from various forms of pneumonia, bronchitis, and lung cancer. Spending one day in Linfen is the equivalent of smoking three packs of cigarettes per day.

2 Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia

Not only is it the coldest capital of the world, but also the second most polluted city on the globe. Ulaanbaatar is the capital of Mongolia, and most people can't even pinpoint it on the map. If you thought the cities of China, where people walk around the street wearing protective masks, were scary, wait till you see this place. Particulate pollution density is 279 micrograms per cubic meter. However, in this particular case, it is not the heavy industry or traffic causing problems, but rather the conflict between tradition and urbanization. Most of the city's population of around 1.2 million live in impoverished neighborhoods, using traditional stoves to heat their gers, the circular felt tents they live in on the hills surrounding the city. During the long winters, the coal burning stoves, all burning at once, produce 70% of the smog floating like a yellow cloud above the city. In Ulaanbaatar, one in ten deaths is caused by pollution. Between 2004 and 2008, the number of people sickened by respiratory disease increased by 45%.

1 Ahwaz in Iran

According to the World Health Organization, the most polluted air on Earth can be inhaled in Ahwaz in Iran. The country sits on one of the biggest oil resources on the planet, and the oil fields in Ahwaz to the southwest of Iran attracted numerous companies and developers in the area. Now, the city produces most of the oil in Iran. Of course, all heavy industry uses petrol as fuel. Oil, petrochemical, sugar, paper, and metal processing plants led to a particulate matter density of 372 micrograms per cubic meter, a monstrous number, 40 times greater than the safety limit. Desertification and river diversion are other contributing factors. The air here is three times worse than in Beijing, with alarming quantities of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide floating in the orange cloud covering the city. All 1.2 million residents of the city are affected by the choking smog and its noxious fumes. Life expectancy in Ahwaz is the lowest in all Iran.

More in The Poorest