Which Countries Have the Worst Air Pollution?

Delhi Flickr photos by jepoirrier

There are some places in this hemisphere that have some bad air, like Los Angeles, Mexico City, and Lima. But they’ve got nothing on the smoking guns of Asia, which make these places look like a blue-sky island.

But where is the worst place to take in a lungful really? That’s not an easy question because it depends on how  you measure it. This recent study says India is the most polluted country, even in rural areas. Part of that is due to the increasing number of their blue-smoke-belching vehicles on the road and almost no restrictions in place. The attitude from this guy quoted in the piece says volumes.

“D. Saha, a scientist in the ‘Air Lab’ at India’s Central Pollution Control Board said the study’s findings were not a matter of huge concern. ‘It is a non-issue, we have other pressing problems like poverty, focus on them.'”

Delhi is only the 3rd-most-polluted city in the country says this article. Delhi was beat out by two places I’ve thankfully never been to and will be sure to avoid: Ludhiana and Kanpur.

But what about China? Time magazine says Linfen, China is the most ungodly place to breathe in a lungful and the World Bank reported in the past that 16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in China.

Beijing Flickr photo by kevin dooley

The problem, as this evaluation from The Guardian notes, you can’t compare a country that releases accurate data (most of the developed world) with one that’s famous for releasing inaccurate reports—like China. The poor people who have to spend their whole lives breathing the air in China are starting to complain more loudly, however, and calling b.s. on the rosy government air reports. Many expats and locals who can read English rely more on the Twitter feed from the U.S. Embassy there. (Hint, it usually reads “hazardous” or “unhealthy.) The pollution is so bad there we’ve taken to measuring it from space.

If you look at this list from the World Health Organization of the worst cities, you probably weren’t planning to go to any of them anyway: half are in Iran and Pakistan.

In the U.S., some spots are far worse than others. Apart from a few geographic oddities like southern California and Salt Lake City, the most polluted places tend to be the ones where coal-fired power plants are prevalent. So you’ve got your industrial heartland around Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia, plus places like East Tennessee and central Alabama. Then there’s the city that defined urban sprawl—Houston—and a compact one jammed with people—New York. See the full list here from the American Lung Association and some analysis from Forbes.

Comments
  1. Richard

    This is the #1 reason I’ve never had much desire to go to China. I know you can avoid the unsavory bits to some extent if you’re on an organized tour that high-tails it out of the city you’ve landed in, but it sounds pretty bleak all around even after that. Just a complete disregard for the environment. Ground, air, or water.

  2. Anna

    you should visit Bohol, Philippines, no pollution at all..you’re gonna love the province..

    • tim

      Been there. Beaches were nice, like they are in much of Southeast Asia. Chocolate Hills not worth the trip though IMO.

  3. arthur

    I think India is number one because it is a big country and has lots of pollution and dirtiness. I visited there for a couple of months and I think they were the worst days of my life.

  4. generique

    I believe that India can be divided into two parts. In one part – it is beautiful and rich, and the second part – a lot of infections, poverty, a terrible environment …. a lot of rats and mice. Here, children are born with unusual anomalies.

  5. Anna

    Beijing is the most polluted city I have ever seen.
    I have visited Forbidden City in January 2006 and at noon you can look at the Sun without any glasses. It is windy and wind lift dust in the air so you can not see clearly the objects on the ground in a distance, but top objects for example a pagoda on a hill will be seen.

  6. Paco

    Sadly what the scientist mentioned is true…Focus on poverty. How do you tell someone who hasn’t eaten in a few days that they should really work on the environment. Sadly it takes time to fix problems like this and with huge populations, and lack of structure to fix the problem it is just getting more and more destroyed…Sad we can’t travel here…more sad that people live here in these conditions.

    • Linda

      Yes Paco, just kill them off with polluted water and air and that solves your poverty problem, eh?

      China has gotten MORE polluted as its citizens have gotten richer, so saying “focus on poverty first” is idiotic.

  7. gregoria

    AS for my opinion China is easily the most contaminated town I’ve ever observed.

    I’ve frequented Not allowed Town within The month of january ’06 and also at midday you can try the sun’s rays with no eyeglasses. It’s breezy as well as blowing wind raise dirt in mid-air to help you avoid seeing obviously the actual items on the floor inside a range, however best items for instance a pagoda on the slope is going to be observed.

  8. Linda

    Wow, Beijing is really polluted, didn’t know that it was this bad. How can people actually breathe there?

    • Anna

      I do not know can people in Beijing breath or not, but in fact, equestrian competitions at the Olympics Games 2008 were held in Hong Kong. Apparently horses could not breathe in polluted Beijing.

  9. Visly

    Today Air Pollution is a big problem for our world but some countries have the worst air pollution. Like India is the most polluted country, even in rural areas. Part of that is due to the increasing number of their blue-smoke-belching vehicles on the road and almost no restrictions in place In the U.S., some spots are far worse than others. Apart from a few geographic oddities like southern California and Salt Lake City, the most polluted places tend to be the ones where coal-fired power plants are prevalent. So you’ve got your industrial heartland around Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia, plus places like East Tennessee and central Alabama. Then there’s the city that defined urban sprawl—Houston—and a compact one jammed with people—New York. But we can’t compare a country that releases accurate data (most of the developed world). So we should support Air clean societies and organization. PALS is a ‘Pure Air Lovers Society’ working for preventing air pollution. For more detail visit: http://www.pals.in.

  10. Jeremy B.

    Apparently China’s government didn’t like the reporting of real statistics. They’ve banned embassies from putting out their own weather readings. Typical.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-06-05/china-calls-on-foreign-embassies-to-halt-pollution-data.html

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