10 Most Air-Polluted Cities in The World

When we think of the most air-polluted cities in the world, we often think of China — a city with notoriously high air pollution levels. However, in recent years, Chinese officials have upped their efforts to improve the air quality in places like Beijing and Taiyuan. And while the air pollution in China is still something of concern, there are many other countries with heavy pollution. Case in point: India is home to nine of the top ten most polluted cities in the world.

How to calculate air pollution

The World Health Organization uses PM2.5 to estimate air pollution in major cities across the world. A PM2.5 is a particulate matter (PM) that is less than 2.5 micrometers wide, aka small enough to enter the lungs and cause many serious health problems. In fact, some studies link the matter to heart and lung disease.

Some moderate levels of PM2.5 (35.5 to 55.4) are considered unsafe to sensitive groups such as elderly and children, as well as people with respiratory disease. While higher levels of PM2.5 can impact larger groups, including those without sensitivities. The most polluted cities in the world fall within the 55.5 to 150.4 and 150.5 to 250.4 range, which is considered “unhealthy” and “very unhealthy.”

Discover the top ten most air-polluted cities in the world, ahead.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Most of the world’s most polluted cities are in India. | Xantana/iStock/Getty Images

10. Muzaffarpur, India

PM2.5 level: 120

Top ten on the list is Muzaffarpur, India. Located in the Tirhut region of Bihar, the Indian city often reaches temperatures of 104 degrees Fahrenheit and high humidity levels in the summertime. According to the World Health Organization, the city has a PM2.5 average of 120.

9. Agra, India

PM2.5 level: 131

The next most polluted city in the world — and, in India — is Agra. Home to the famous Taj Mahal, Agra’s air quality is considered “unhealthy” thanks to the city’s cars and cooking fuels.

8. Bamenda, Cameroon

PM2.5 level: 132

The only city on the list that isn’t located in India? Bamenda, Cameroon. While most of India’s air pollution is caused by cars, cooking fuels, and other common types of contributors, the air quality in Bamenda is a result of extensive deforestation.

7. Lucknow, India

PM2.5 level: 138

Located in northern India, Lucknow is the capital of Uttar Pradesh and best known for its 18th century Bara Imambara shrine, Mughal architecture, and colonial-era buildings. That said, with a PM2.5 of 138, it’s also known for being one of the most polluted cities in the world.

6. Delhi, India

PM2.5 level: 143

The capital of India has some serious cleaning up to do. With a PM2.5 level of 143, it’s marked as the number six most polluted city in the world.

5. Patna, India

PM2.5 level: 144

Located on the banks of the Ganges in northeast India, the ancient city if Patna is one of the country’s biggest transportation hubs. As a result, it has a PM2.5 level of 144.

4. Gaya, India

PM2.5 level: 149

Known for its Hindu and Buddhist temples, the holy city of Gaya, India is also considered one of the most polluted in the world. Its average PM2.5 level is 149.

3. Varanasi, India

PM2.5 level: 151

With an average PM2.5 level of 151, the spiritual city of Varanasi, India’s air quality is considered “unhealthy.” However, that doesn’t stop Hindu pilgrims from basking in the Ganges river and enjoying all the city has to offer.

2. Faridabad, India

PM2.5 level: 172

With a PM2.5 level of 172, it’s no secret that Faridabad, India’s air pollution is crisis level. Thanks to its neighboring city of New Delhi — another high air polluted city — and heavy traffic, the city’s air quality is considered “very unhealthy.”

1. Kanpur, India

PM2.5 level: 173

The number one most air-polluted city in the world is Kanpur, India. Measuring out at a PM2.5 level of 173 micrograms per cubic meter, the World Health Organization can’t turn its cheek to the “very unhealthy” air quality.

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