Connect with us

Green

Ranked: The Countries With the Most Air Pollution in 2023

Published

on

See this visualization first on the Voronoi app.

Graphic showing the world’s most polluted countries.

Visualizing the Most Air Polluted Countries in 2023

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Almost the entire global population breathes air that exceeds the air quality limits set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

In this graphic, we map the world’s most polluted countries according to IQAir, ranked by their annual average PM2.5 concentration (μg/m³) in 2023. The unit μg/m³ refers to micrograms per cubic meter.

What is PM2.5?

PM2.5 refers to fine particulate matter, with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less, that can travel deep into your lungs and cause health problems.

In 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) updated its air quality guidelines for PM2.5. The recommended maximum annual average level for PM2.5 is now 5 μg/m³, down from the previous target of 10 μg/m³.

Common sources of PM2.5 pollution include engine exhaust, power plant combustion, smoke from fires, dust, and dirt.

How Does PM2.5 Pollution Affect Humans?

Research published in 2022 from the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) found that 97.3% of the world’s population is exposed to levels of PM2.5 that exceed the WHO guidelines.

This takes 2.2 years off the global average life expectancy, relative to a world that met the WHO guideline.

In South Asia specifically, the AQLI believes residents could be losing up to 5 years off their lives. The region has been a global hotspot of air pollution for years, home to 37 of the 40 most polluted cities in the world.

RankCountryAnnual average
PM2.5 concentration
1🇧🇩 Bangladesh79.9
2🇵🇰 Pakistan73.7
3🇮🇳 India54.4
4🇹🇯 Tajikistan49.0
5🇧🇫 Burkina Faso46.6
6🇮🇶 Iraq43.8
7🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates43.0
8🇳🇵 Nepal42.4
9🇪🇬 Egypt42.4
10🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of the Congo40.8
11🇰🇼 Kuwait39.9
12🇧🇭 Bahrain39.2
13🇶🇦 Qatar37.6
14🇮🇩 Indonesia37.1
15🇷🇼 Rwanda36.8
16🇿🇼 Zimbabwe33.3
17🇬🇭 Ghana33.2
18🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan33.1
19🇨🇳 China32.5
20🇱🇾 Libya30.4

Interestingly, fine particulate matter can travel hundreds of kilometers, often crossing national boundaries.

For instance, approximately 30% of air pollution in the Indian state of Punjab originates from neighboring Pakistan. Similarly, an estimated 30% of pollution in Bangladesh’s largest cities is traced back to India.

Click for Comments

Environment

The Most Polluted Cities in the U.S.

What are the most polluted cities in the U.S. according to data from the American Lung Association’s 2024 State of the Air Report?

Published

on

Teaser image for an infographic showing the most polluted cities in the U.S. according to the American Lung Association's 2024 State of the Air report.

Published

on

The following content is sponsored by National Public Utilities Council

The Most Polluted U.S. Cities in 2024

According to the World Health Organization, air pollution is responsible for 7 million deaths annually, and could cost the global economy between $18–25 trillion by 2060 in annual welfare costs, or roughly 4–6% of world GDP.

And with predictions that 7 in 10 people will make their homes in urban centers by mid-century, cities are fast becoming one of the frontlines in the global effort to clear the air.

In this visualization, we use 2024 data from the State of the Air report from the American Lung Association to show the most polluted cities in the United States.

What is Air Pollution?

Air pollution is a complex mixture of gases, particles, and liquid droplets and can have a variety of sources, including wildfires and cookstoves in rural areas, and road dust and diesel exhaust in cities. 

There are a few kinds of air pollution that are especially bad for human health, including ozone and carbon monoxide, but here we’re concerned with fine particulate matter that is smaller than 2.5 microns, or PM2.5 for short. 

The reason for the focus is because at that small size, particulate matter can penetrate the bloodstream and cause all manner of havoc, including cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and chronic pulmonary disease. 

The American Lung Association has set an annual average guideline of 9 µg/m³ for PM2.5, however, the World Health Organization has set a much more stringent limit of 5 µg/m³.

The 21 Worst Polluted Cities in the U.S.

Here are the top 21 most polluted cities in the U.S., according to their annual average PM2.5 concentrations:

RankCity, StateAnnual average concentration, 2020-2022 (µg/m3)
1Bakersfield, CA18.8
2Visalia, CA18.4
3Fresno, CA17.5
4Eugene, OR14.7
5Bay Area, CA14.3
6Los Angeles, CA14.0
7Sacramento, CA13.8
8Medford, OR13.5
9Phoenix, AZ12.4
10Fairbanks, AK12.2
11Indianapolis, IN11.9
12Yakima, WA11.8
13Detroit, MI11.7
T14Chico, CA11.6
T14Spokane, WA11.6
15Houston, TX11.4
16El Centro, CA11.1
17Reno, NV11.0
18Pittsburgh, PA10.9
T19Kansas City, KS10.8
T19Las Vegas, NV10.8

Note: The American Lung Association uses Core Based Statistical Areas in its city and county rankings, which have been shortened here to the area’s principal city, or metro area in the case of the Bay Area, CA.

Six of the top seven cities are in California, and four in the state’s Central Valley, a 450-mile flat valley that runs parallel to the Pacific coast, and bordered by the Coast and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges. As a result, when pollution from the big population centers on the coast is carried inland by the wind—cities #5 and #6 on the list—it tends to get trapped in the valley. 

Bakersfield (#1), Visalia (#2), and Fresno (#3) are located at the drier and hotter southern end of the valley, which is worse for air quality. The top three local sources of PM2.5 emissions in 2023 were farms (20%), forest management / agricultural waste burning (20%), and road dust (14%). 

Benefit to Economy

While the health impacts are generally well understood, less well known are the economic impacts.

Low air quality negatively affects worker productivity, increases absenteeism, and adds both direct and indirect health care costs. But the flip side of that equation is that improving air quality has measurable impacts to the wider economy. The EPA published a study that calculated the economic benefits of each metric ton of particulate matter that didn’t end up in the atmosphere, broken down by sector. 

SectorBenefits per metric ton
Residential Woodstoves$429,220
Refineries$333,938
Industrial Boilers$174,229
Oil and Natural Gas Transmission$125,227
Electricity Generating Units$124,319
Oil and Natural Gas$88,838

At the same time, the EPA recently updated a cost-benefit analysis of the Clean Air Act, the main piece of federal legislation governing air quality, and found that between 1990 and 2020 it cost the economy roughly $65 billion, but also provided $2 trillion in benefits

Benefit to Business

But that’s at the macroeconomic level, so what about for individual businesses?

For one, employees like to breathe clean air and will choose to work somewhere else, given a choice. A 2022 Deloitte case study revealed that nearly 70% of highly-skilled workers said air quality was a significant factor in choosing which city to live and work in.

At the same time, air quality can impact employer-sponsored health care premiums, by reducing the overall health of the risk pool. And since insurance premiums averaged $7,590 per year in 2022 for a single employee, and rose to $21,931 for a family, that can add up fast. 

Consumers are also putting their purchase decisions through a green lens, while ESG, triple-bottom-line, and impact investing are putting the environment front and center for many investors.

And if the carrot isn’t enough for some businesses, there is the stick. The EPA recently gave vehicle engine manufacturer Cummins nearly two billion reasons to help improve air quality, in a settlement the agency is calling “the largest civil penalty in the history of the Clean Air Act and the second largest environmental penalty ever.”

Visual Capitalist Logo

Learn how the National Public Utilities Council is working toward the future of sustainable electricity.

Click for Comments

You may also like

Voronoi, the app by Visual Capitalist. Where data tells the story. Download on App Store or Google Play

Subscribe

Continue Reading
Appian-Capital

Subscribe

Popular