In Mpumalanga Highveld, South Africa, more than 3.5 million residents breathe in toxic fumes from the smokestacks of 12 coal-fired power plants in proximity to their city. This concoction of toxic fumes includes sulfur dioxide, mercury, and particulate matter, which are small particles that enter the lungs as liquid droplets.
This causes an extreme array of irreversible health problems including respiratory and cardiac-related diseases. Because South Africa has such a dependence on coal, controlling 90% of the country’s electricity, it’s become one of the most polluted areas in the world (Earth Justice).
What was once an oasis in paradise, Sri Lanka quickly became a wasteland of pollution and toxic chemicals. The country is constantly battling coastal erosion, as well as waste that washes onto its shores. Its ocean is full of microplastics, which is directly impacting food chains and people ingesting the animals and water.
Additionally, pollution is also a result of organic waste burning, vehicle emissions, and petroleum refining. All of this combined creates one of the most toxic environments in the world (News Monga Bay).
Even though an area of the world looks beautiful and picturesque, doesn’t mean that’s the truth underneath. Taranto is considered to be one of the most polluted areas in the world because it’s home to Europe’s largest steel factory. Unfortunately, this steel factory spews extremely toxic chemicals into the air. As a result, many people living in the area suffer from these toxins and suffer an array of health problems.
On windy days, the residents are told to shut their windows and prevent toxic chemicals from entering their homes so they don’t breathe them in. Pediatrician Dr. Mina Valentino considers the problem in Taranto to be a “silent epidemic.” He said, “I see respiratory problems, coughs that are difficult to treat, melanoma in babies, children that have brain development issues because they don’t spend enough time outdoors, problems with the skin.” This is all a direct result of the toxins and pollutants from the steel factory (Business Insider).
After a survey conducted by Greenpeace, Xinjiang, and Henan was found to be the top two most polluted areas in China. This is a direct result of polluting factories introducing toxins into the air and nearby waterways. Pollution also stems from coal mining and vehicle emissions spewing out toxic chemicals, in addition to underground coal fires. These provinces in China are experiencing toxic chemicals from both above ground and below ground.
Because of the rapid industry growth in China, officials are having a tough time keeping up with the growing amount of trash and pollution accumulating in society. Many changes need to come before they start seeing a shift for the better in regard to pollution (SCMP).
We’ve all heard about Chernobyl, Ukraine, and the major nuclear disaster that occurred in 1986. it caused an immense amount of destruction for decades following the explosion. This radiation leak led to toxic fumes, fires, and health impacts that persist today. Many scientists, including Dr. Peter Martin from the UK, are visiting Chernobyl to study the site and figure out ways to lower the effects of the radiation.
He said, “visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, it’s like everything has just stopped. Most metal items are rusty. Abandoned vehicles are left on the road. It is quite somber.” To prevent any negative health impacts, scientists use dosimetry to measure radiation levels. “Your dose is highly controlled,” Martin said. That’s one way to prevent even one more person from experiencing the negative impact of radiation (Power Mag).
Inside the slum of Agbogbloshie, you’ll find one of the most polluted areas in the world. It’s the largest e-waste dump in the world and contains tons of dumped electronics. Lead levels surpass the limit deemed safe, about 45 times higher than any US standard. Because of the world’s increasing demand for electronics, Agbogbloshie has seen a major negative impact.
Consumers throw away their old electronics for a newer, more updated model. But because technology is rapidly changing, the world can’t keep up with the sudden influx of trash and garbage, and places like Agbogbloshie are seeing negative impacts (EJ Atlas).
India is home to some of the most polluted areas in the world. Over 130 cities in India have air levels below national standards, which is contributing to an array of health problems around the world. In 2019, pollution alone led to over 2.3 million premature deaths, whereas air pollution contributed to 1.6 million deaths and over 500,000 were due to water pollution.
Additionally, out of the 30 most polluted cities in the world, India was home to 21 of them. This pollution is due to vehicle exhaust, power generation, dusty roads, lack of proper water and sewage systems, and traffic, to name a few (Bloomberg).
Despite the beauty of the mountains in Pakistan, the country has some of the most polluted cities in the world, Lahore being one of them. According to an air quality monitor, officials discovered Lahore had an air quality ranking of 348, which surpasses the toxic level of 300. Many residents in the city were suffering from air pollution and felt as though they were choking.
Residents, like Muhammad Saeed, said, “children are experiencing breathing diseases… for God’s sake, find a solution.” Because of low-grade fumes, colder winters which create stagnant air, and crop burn-off, Lahore has seen an increase in air pollution over the past several years (NDTV).
Even though Lahore is one of the most polluted areas of Pakistan, the River Ravi comes close to surpassing that level of pollution. Even the locals don’t allow their cattle to drink from the river. A local named Muhammad, after pointing to his water buffalo, said, “I don’t let them drink this water. This water is from the city. All of its garbage comes into it.” Locals who use that water to bathe, wash their bodies, cook, or drink are ingesting the toxic chemicals from sewage waste and suffering an array of major health issues. Waste from over 16,000 factories and 10 million residents flows into the River Ravi, which is completely illegal.
Because of this waste runoff, more than 250,000 Pakistani children are killed every single year by water diseases like cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, and dysentery. A director at the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources, Lubna Bukhari, said, “when there is untreated sewage, it results in the groundwater being polluted.” As we can see, the River Ravi and all locals are suffering (The New Humanitarian).
In Bangladesh, the capital Dhaka is considered to be one of the most polluted areas in the world. It’s suffering from a deteriorating air quality that’s negatively impacting the health and lives of people living in the city. At one point, Dhaka had the worst air quality in the world, with Delhi, India following close behind.
This is especially prominent during the dry season when the lack of rain hinders the cleansing of the air. Many officials are trying their best to keep the air quality index at 200-250 during the wintertime, with a maximum of 300, even though it’s proving to be incredibly difficult (Arab News).
Even though Dhaka is one of the most polluted areas of Bangladesh, other areas in the country also suffer the negative impacts of air pollution. Decades ago, the villages in Bangladesh were considered to be pure and pristine, but over the years, with the growing population and influx of plastic, that title is long gone.
Now, with recent road developments, those villages are considered to be some of the most polluted areas in the world. Additionally, they lack access to modern sewage and waste systems that many major cities have, which only adds to the pollution problem they’re facing (The Financial Express).
Even though Kwazulu-Natal looks like it’s straight from a movie, it’s secretly one of the most polluted places on earth. When heavy rains roll in, the beaches suffer from overflowing rivers that carry trash onto the beaches and into the sea. Plastic bags and water bottles pile up on the shores of Durban. Some of them travel hundreds of miles along the coast.
Additionally, between 90,000 and 250,000 tons of garbage leak into the ocean around the entire country. This number is increasing every single year. Unfortunately, it not only damages the ecosystem but damages ship engines when they accidentally absorb nets that get entangled in their propellors. Birds and fish become sick, and humans ingest those animals and the toxins they also ingest. It’s a damaging, never ending cycle (UNEP).
After a series of explosions at a blast site in Tianjin, China, officials temporarily installed 12 monitoring stations to monitor the air quality. These explosions caused an array of toxins and chemicals to leak into the air. It exceeds the safety national standards and has the potential to be harmful to citizens living in the area.
The samples collected include high concentrations of toluene, sulfur dioxide, and carbon oxide, amongst several other toxins. The pollutants exceeded the concentration limit of major air pollutants, which is 2.0 milligrams per cubic. There is an astonishing 5.7 milligrams per cubic meter. These pollutants are also leaking into the sea and negatively impacting marine life in the area (China Daily).
Baoding is considered one of the most polluted cities in the world. With over 10 million people, this is a major health concern to everyone living n the city. After discovering the air pollution figures, officials realized the city only had 16 days of “good” quality air levels, considered safe for people to live in. That’s horrible. That means every other day was considered an unsafe air quality level.
Mr. Han, a local who’s living in Baoding his whole life, said, “generally, there is smog on most days. It was much better when I was young, the air was very clean. We rarely see blue skies now.” Nowadays, the pollution comes from coal stacks and air factories that pump out toxic fumes into the air, even though it might not seem obvious (The Guardian).
Because of landfill sites in Seoul, it’s become one of the most polluted areas in the world. The city is facing a potential waste disposal crisis. Their current landfill site receives around 12,000 tons of garbage daily. Many forms of pollution have increased in South Korea since its rapid industrialization, especially in Seoul and other cities. According to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Seoul is amongst one of the world’s cities with the worst air pollution.
This mainly comes from construction and waste from people’s homes. Even though it’s been a major problem looming over the years, attempts at fixing it have been fruitless and the city sees a growing number of problems related to pollution (Korea Times).
Previously, Brazil was home to one of the biggest garbage dumps in the world in Brasilia. It is one of the most polluted places on earth. It recently closed after nearly 60 years, where it processed over 1,000 tons of garbage every single day. Unfortunately, this closure hurts locals in the area, who were previously using the dump to scavenge as a way to survive and make an income.
Luckily, the regional government announced they’ll hire scavengers to work in the recycling center. This is one benefit of the dump’s closure. One of the biggest rubbish dumps in South America has closed in Brazil after almost 60 years. Additionally, The larger urban areas of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasilia suffer from substantial ozone issues because both acetaldehyde and nitrogen oxides are significant contributors to photochemical air pollution and ozone formation (BBC).
Deadly heavy metals are found in Bald Mountain in Indonesia. These metals came from vast quantities of mercury used to separate gold from the land. Unfortunately, so much mercury was used turned the island into a toxic wasteland. This threatened marine life, public health, agriculture, and the people in the area.
What initially seemed like a great income source for locals quickly became a source of toxins. Another negative impact included destroying a sacred mountain with irreversible damage. Indonesia is today the world’s twentieth most polluted country. Air pollution shortens the average Indonesian’s life expectancy by 2 years, relative to what it would be if the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline was permanently met. (Asia Times).
Tashkent is one of the most polluted places on earth. It’s more dangerous for people who are sensitive to smog and pollution, or who have allergies. A lot of this pollution comes from smog from the factories, industrial areas, and power plants that burn coal and other material that leaks into the air.
In 2019, Tashkent came in with a yearly PM2. 5 average reading of 41.2 μg/m³, a high reading that placed it into the ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’ bracket, which requires a PM2. 5 reading of anywhere between 35.5 to 55.4 μg/m³ to be classed as such. This is extremely hazardous for public health and people living in the area since they have constant exposure to smoke and smog (IQ Air).
Delhi is, reportedly, one of the most polluted areas on the planet.Polluted smog hovers over the city of Delhi in India in the wintertime. Garbage fills up three landfills every single year, and these dumping sites are proven to be a safety hazard for locals living in proximity to the garbage dumps. Previously, North Delhi’s dump Bhalswa caught fire and emitted smoke into the air.
It took over four days for officials to calm the fire down. By that time toxic pollutants had already leaked into the air. The fumes, plus the garbage and smog create a toxic concoction that’s harming the lives of many locals living in Delhi and the neighboring towns and cities (Scroll).
Because of growing industries in Ghaziabad, it’s become one of the most polluted areas in the world. Even though growing industries seems like a good thing, it’s having the complete opposite effect on the environment. Growing industries means more toxic dumping and waste in the environment.
Additionally, there’s an increase in traffic from cars and motor vehicles, making it incredibly toxic. Fumes emitted from these vehicles, in addition to traffic, are adding to the low level of air quality in this city. Smoke stacks are also seen in the city, which emits an array of toxic fumes all on their own (Earth).
Even though the city of Bahawalpur is famous for its pottery and carpets, it’s also considered to be one of the most polluted areas on earth. The city has experienced many bouts of unhealthy air. They’ve also had harmful readings that are beyond what’s deemed safe by national standards.
As we’ve seen in many other cities around the world, children are constantly suffering from respiratory diseases. This is a result of the air quality they’re living in. This is extremely harmful to their health, and will only worsen with time (Research Gate).
La Oroya, Peru is a mining town in the Peruvian Andes and the site of a poly-metallic smelter since 1922. The area is highly contaminated by mining waste and by dust and acidic fumes from the smelter. Surveys have confirmed high blood lead levels in children and sulfur dioxide levels also exceeded WHO limits.
Unfortunately, it’s notorious for being one of the most polluted areas on earth. The local government has been unable to clean up the pollution caused by the metal smelter in La Oroya. It is the major contributor to the pollution problem. This mining town emits acidic fumes directly from the smelter into the air. Children now have extremely high levels of sulfur dioxide and lead in their blood as a result (Bilaterals).
Many people want to swim in the sea flanking Manila, but unfortunately, the reality is that the sea is extremely polluted by toxic waste from the city. It’s one of the most polluted areas in the world and is full of toxins from house sewage, industrial waste, and commercial establishments that use the sea as a toxic dump.
Locals are attempting to clean up the area and make it less toxic than it already is, even though this feat seems impossible. It’s going to take a lot of effort before the area sees any change or lessening of toxic chemicals. Toxins in Manila have accounted for more than 27,000 deaths. Considering this is entirely preventable, it’s a shame that so many people are suffering from it (2FrenchinManila).
Due to its location, Baghpat is, unfortunately, one of the most polluted places in the world. It’s situated in a spot that’s hit by north-westerly winds carrying stubble smoke. This smoke comes from the paddy fields of Punjab. Additionally, it contributed to 25% of pollution in a recent winter.
Because there hasn’t been any action plans to try and decrease the amount of pollution, its been accumulating over the years and has now reached a crisis level. This is true for many of the cities across India. Unfortunately, Baghpat is just one of them (Hindustan Times).
We’ve seen Delhi on this list as one of the most polluted areas in the world. But Mumbai has also made the list. Mountains of garbage tower along the outskirts of the city. Luckily, the Prime Minister is attempting to tackle this problem and is implementing waste treatment plants. Some of the mountains of garbage tower up to 18 stories high.
Many locals in the area use the garbage waste dumps as scavengers to try and sell products they find. Pollution in Mumbai also stems from overpopulated highways, unpaved dusty roads, burning of garbage, and emissions from local industries (BBC).
The Citarum River in Indonesia is 225 kilometers in length and runs through villages that use it for drinking, washing, cooking, and bathing. Over 25 million people are living in its basin, hence the reason it’s so polluted. The lack of regulations and poor sewage and waste system contributes to the polluted waterways.
Additionally, thousands of waste-producing industries line the river’s waterways, which use it as a dumping system. In addition to this, the river accumulates waste from agricultural factories and fisheries (Austro Indonesia).
Pasig River connects Laguna Bay to Manila Bay. Even though we’ve seen the waterways of Manila as some of the most polluted in the world, the Pasig River also makes the list. Plastic waste flows into the river’s mouth, which is harming locals that live in proximity to the river. Many environmentalists are attempting to clean the river through beach cleanups and brand auditing.
This is an attempt to slow down the heavy waste responsible for a majority of the pollution. This river alone accounts for more than 63,000 tons of plastic entering the ocean every single year. And that’s just one river (Business Mirror).
Another major Indian city makes the list, and this time it’s Kolkata. The Dhapa landfill, located in the city, is facing a crisis of coping with the daily burden of waste from locals in the city. It’s too much to take in, and more waste is being produced than can be dealt with. The only solution is to slow down the waste consumption in the city of Kolkata. Once this happens, the landfill can process what’s already there. The Dhapa has a bit of history behind it since it was created in 1941 under British rule.
A garbage train would travel along the city’s main roads collecting garbage, and then bringing it to the landfill. It is no surprise that the waste in the 40s was much less than the waste we’re seeing today. Today, we’re seeing over 5,000 metric tons of waste every day, with over 4,000 tons of it getting dumped into landfill. It’s also towering at a dangerous height of 50 feet, and at this point is unable to take in any more waste (Swachhindia).
Another area of Ghana, Accra, sees heavy acidic gusts of smoke blowing across the city. It’s home to the Agbogbloshie dump, which we’ve previously seen on this list. But the city of Accra itself is also home to tons of waste and toxic air. Ghana alone is one of the most polluted countries in the world, and a lot of it, unfortunately, comes from e-waste.
Many people living and working in Accra, and Agbogbloshie, see back problems, burns, and infected wounds solely from the pollution they’re constantly surrounding themself with. Luckily, Accra, became the first major African city to join the BreatheLife campaign. Accra is the first pilot city of the Urban Health Initiative, supported by UN Environment’s Climate and Clean Air Coalition. (Bloomberg)