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Cities With the Highest Air  Pollution

Flickr | David HoltEvery continent has areas that are suffering from severe air pollution. The World Health Organisation recommends that air contains up to 10 micrograms of 6 atmospheric pollutants per square metre to be able to be classed as high quality, clean air. However, as we all know by now it is rare to find such air with today’s pollution levels.

Air pollution is responsible for up to 9,000,000 deaths worldwide! It is ironic that one of our key life sources is now a threat to life. The industrial revolution is the source of some of the greatest and most rapid advancements in history and it catapulted first world countries into technological innovations but left them drowning in fossil fuels. It also left the third world behind until now.

As developing countries try to rapidly industrialise and shed themselves of economic setbacks and the enduring effects of colonialism, they use chemicals and sources that are cheap and readily available. These sources are often non-renewable and fossil fuel based which exacerbate air quality, and often leave people vulnerable to disease.

Flickr | Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources  The pollutants measured to determine levels of pollution in the air include, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide. With the ubiquity of fossil fuelled transport, modern life has become intertwined with non-renewable technologies that we heavily rely on. The cost of progress has meant that in the UK alone, there are on average 600,000 more cars on the roads each year.

The tiny particles of pollution are so small, about 30 times smaller than a human hair, and are able to lodge themselves into our lungs and can even enter the blood, having serious consequences on the heart, breathing tubes and the brain. Serious levels of pollution, which we have all been exposed to in this current day, makes people more susceptible to other illnesses too including the flu.

Each continent has worryingly polluted cities. Will yours be at the top of the list?


Flickr | seair21Zabol in Iran is plagued by manmade pollution that has increased since the Hamoun wetland dried up. The city experiences 40 Degrees Celsius + temperatures and weeks of intense dust storms. The dust is already difficult to withstand but it also contributes to naturally polluting particles in the air. The situation is exacerbated by other polluting factors from bad irrigation systems, deforestation and fossil fuels which are forced into concentrated gusts thanks to the storms. The civilians suffer dust storm season every summer and it known locally as ‘the 120 day wind’ and within a matter of hours, small particles can lodge themselves into people’s lungs. The city used to be a hub of civilisation and the first animation was even found there, yet now it suffers from poverty with a lack of effective governance, which means a lack of pollution management too.


Flickr | e.r.w.i.n.Onitsha in Nigeria is at the top of the list for most polluted city in Africa. The city has a huge dredging industry on the River Niger and there tends to be a huge amount of fine waste that is not disposed of correctly, left to enter the atmosphere. Even more dangerously, smelting activities take place out in the open, along streets whether they are residential or not. This means that the industry is unregulated and the smog produced is not controlled, black clouds of smoke appear across the city.   Onitsha lacks efficient governance, leaving people unable to worry about things like pollution since they are so preoccupied with trying to make a living. Almost a quarter of a million people could be dying prematurely across the continent due to air pollution.


Flickr | aaProductionsEurope’s most polluted city is Tuzla in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Tuzla is an industrial city and the sulphur dioxide levels have sometimes reached 1,000 micrograms per square metre! That is not only 100 times over the recommended limits, it also exceeds all categories which class 500 micrograms as the highest level, classed as very hazardous. Approximately 400,000 in Europe people die yearly due to air pollution.

North America

Flickr | Ben AmstutzBeing the home of Hollywood, Universal Studios and all of that glitz and glam has its consequences. Los Angeles is officially North America’s most polluted city. The masses of road vehicles contribute to the problem as do natural wildfires. Being a hot tourist spot meaning Los Angeles has many booming industries that rely on fuel emitting technologies; this has resulted in visible black smog from the many mountains in the area.

South America

Flickr | Pittou2For South America the situation is very similar. Cochabamba in Bolivia is South America’s most polluted city and 70% of the air pollution is thanks to road vehicles. Cochabamba suffers from over 100 microns per square metre most of the time. However, recently the city has adopted car-free days and people have seen a significant difference in quality of air and a significant drop in microns in the air. It seems that changing road vehicles is a vital part in tackling air pollution.


Flickr | Travolution360Last but definitely not least, is Port Hedland, Australia. This city is epitomic of how industrial activities have contributed massively to poor air quality. It became an industrial city thanks to its natural deep anchorage harbour which acts as the main fuel and container receiving point for the region. In addition, the city is a large exporter of iron; in 2016 it broke a record by shipping 39.6 million tonnes of iron ore in a month. This has been great economically however the quality of life for residents has been deeply diminished. In fact, the city faces a potential class action law suit due to the amount of respiratory issues suffered within the region.  


By Hanna-Johara Dokal - Online Journalism Intern

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