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11 Most Polluted Cities in the World That Might Shock You

When you hear the words “polluted city,” you think of tall, gloomy concrete jungles lined with trash-filled streets. Smoke rises everywhere, and loud honking and choking exhaust pipes, overflowing sewage, and toxic waste leaving endless factories are a nightmare.  

While we’re entering a new age of striving to be more green, sustainable, healthy, and environmentally conscious, many major cities have yet to meet these standards. 

Instead, they offer conditions that could be detrimental to the health of any human being. And the most polluted cities often go hand-in-hand with the most dangerous cities in the world too.  

Scientists determine a city’s pollution by analyzing its Air Quality Index and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution data. 

I’ve compiled this list from 2022/2023 PM2.5 data using sources such as AQI and Smart Air. You can also use the AQI site to see live city rankings. 

1. Dammam, Saudi Arabia 

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

PM2.5: 124.11 µg/m3 

Dammam is a city in Saudi Arabia with a population of 1,252,523 people. According to Smart Air, it is also the most polluted city in the world right now. Being the primary administrative center of the Saudi oil industry, you can see why this city is thick with smog. 

Air pollution is a severe problem, with vehicle emissions being the leading cause. Poor air quality immediately affects individuals with respiratory issues and other health risks, while healthier individuals are prone to long-term effects.

2. Lahore, Pakistan 

Photo by Hamza Gulzar from Pexels

PM2.5: 111.63 µg/m3

Lahore’s huge population is over 13 million, making it the second-largest city in Pakistan. While the crowded conditions can be blamed for the urban activities causing such severe pollution in Lahore, other factors are at play. 

A combination of things causes air pollution. The cutting down of trees for more development, harmful emissions from vehicles, factories, industrial complexes and dust from construction sites are significant contributors. 

3. Begusarai, India

Photo by Yogendra  Singh from Pexels

PM2.5: 108 µg/m3

Being home to the Barauni Thermal Power Station (BTPS), Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) and Barauni Sudha Dairy industries have made this Indian city a hotspot for smog. 

Begusarai’s current PM2.5 concentration is 9.9 times above the recommended limit, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)

With terrible air quality and a hot climate all year round, it doesn’t seem like a pleasant city to health-conscious people. Individuals with lung diseases such as asthma will find breathing comfortably a challenge in this city. 

4. Dhaka, Bangladesh 

Photo by Yogendra  Singh from Pexels

PM2.5: 84.73 µg/m3

Dhaka is the capital and largest city of Bangladesh. This fast-growing metropolis also has a fast-growing air pollution problem, with a PM2.5 concentration 6.1 times above the WHO recommended limit. 

The city is overwhelmed with nearly 17 million inhabitants, with plenty living in one of the many slums (over 5000). Dhaka also has a huge problem with traffic jams and environmental stresses caused by its massive landfills.

It also has many textile and dying businesses, brick kilns, and chemical and cement factories. 

5. Delhi, India 

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PM2.5: 84.39 µg/m3

Delhi is a massive metropolitan area and India’s capital territory. This city is notorious for its evergrowing population of 32,066,000 people in 2022. With so many people, pollution is expected, from unhealthy water quality to contaminated soil. 

The air quality in the city is so poor that millions of children who grow up there suffer from irreversible lung damage. This point is supported by the high concentration of PM2.5, which is 4.1 times above the recommended amount. 

6. Muzaffarnagar, India

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PM2.5: 81.35 µg/m3

Muzaffarnagar is known as the sugar bowl of India in the Uttar Pradesh region. This is where you’ll find large sugar, steel and paper industries. While these agricultural industries provide inhabitants with job opportunities, it’s also the main contributor to the city’s poor air quality. 

Wearing a mask in the city is mandatory. Otherwise, you’ll be risking your health. Muzaffarnagar’s PM2.5 concentration is 3.8 times above the recommended amount. 

7. Kashgar, China 

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Photo by Amo on Unsplash

PM2.5: 78 µg/m3

Kashgar has a long history as an important trading centre located between the Pamirs Mountains and a vast desert. This once-isolated oasis has now grown into a bustling city of 711,300 (2019) people. 

Today, the city’s unhealthy air is 4.5 times above the recommended PM2.5 concentration. Stay indoors and use an air purifier if you want to look after your health while living there.  Kashgar has recently been named China’s most polluted city, owing much of its pollution mainly to natural sources.

8. Baghdad, Iraq 

Photo by khezez  | خزاز: from Pexels

PM2.5: 77.62 µg/m3

Baghdad is Iraq’s capital city and is a pillar of Islamic civilization and Arabic culture. Known as one of the world’s greatest cities, Baghdad now faces issues with poverty, corruption, displacement, illiteracy and, ultimately, unhealthy air quality.

Sensitive individuals can start to experience throat irritations and difficulty breathing by being outside. Transportation, dust storms, oil industries, fossil fuels, and energy production are some leading causes of air pollution. 

9. Ghaziabad, India 

Photo by हर्षल from Pexels

PM2.5: 74.72 µg/m3

Ghaziabad is yet another city in India’s Uttar Pradesh region you’d want to avoid for its health risks. Its growing population of 1,729,000 people and a famous Oil Engines industry have contributed to its poor air quality. 

Other contributors include power plants, factories, unpaved roads, construction sites and vehicle emissions. These air pollutants can cause and worsen respiratory diseases such as asthma and lung cancer and are also connected to heart disease.

10. Patna, India 

Photo by Nishant Meena from Pexels

PM2.5: 67.20 µg/m3

Patna is a bustling historic city that sits along the south banks of the Ganges River (which is considered one of the most polluted waterways in the world). This northeast Indian city is the birthplace of popular music genres such as the dhammar, kajli, and Dadra. 

But it is also home to some of the worst air quality in the world, capping 6.7 times above the recommended PM2.5 concentration. This makes a living here severely detrimental to your health, especially for sensitive individuals.

11. Hapur, India 

Photo by Emmet from Pexels

PM2.5: 67.02 µg/m3

Hapur will not give you fresh air. Instead, you’ll get poor air quality, which is 2.3 times above the recommended PM2.5 concentration level. This city is also in the Uttar Pradesh area of India and sits just 60 km (37 miles) above New Delhi. 

Hapur is the manufacturing hub of Stainless Steel Pipes and Tubes. Combine that with its vast population of 13,28,322, and you’re in for some severe pollution. The poor air quality, increased humidity, and ongoing industrial activities make this city uncomfortable.

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