9 Most Polluted City in The World That You Shouldn’t Visit

Earth is a beautiful place right before we started all the endless burning, mining, and polluting. The sheer numbers of toxic chemicals we produced to curb our needs are beyond what mother earth could take. We the human f*** it up and even after many decades, our future generation will continue to suffer because the environmental damage done is irreversible. Unless you are sick of breathing clean air and want to juice up with some toxic into your body, below are the most polluted cities that you should not travel to.
Short answer
Clean air is a fundamental right that not everyone is born with it.
Dzerzhinsk Russia
Image by Imgur

Dzerzhinsk, Russia

  • Pollution Level (Sulfur dioxide)
  • Population (238,327)
  • Numbers of Death
  • Type of Pollutants – Chemicals, Sari, VX gases, phenol, lead
  • Industries – Chemical manufacturing

When your city won The Guinness Book of World Records for the most chemically polluted city on Earth, you know you are living in a toxic wasteland. Formerly the largest chemical weapon manufacturing sites in Russia, Dzerzhinsk is located about 249 miles (400 kilometers) east of Moscow with a population of 238,327 (2012). Between the era 1930 right until 1998, There are around 300,000 tons of chemical waste improperly deposited in the area that resulted in soils and water contamination around thousands of times above the recommended levels.

Being the second largest city of the Nizhegorodskaya region, how bad can Dzerzhinsk chemical pollution level be? Very bad. Miles ahead of another heavily polluted city, Norilsk. Dzerzhinsk death rate is even higher than its birth rate by a whopping 260%. That’s close to a 3 to 1 ratio. The average life expectancy for men is at 42 years and women is at 47 years when on the whole Russia has an expectancy lifespan of 72 years. Most residents close to the industry area suffer from various respiratory diseases including lungs, and kidney cancer.

Today, Dzerzhinsk is still the center hub Russian chemical industry and to the world. At least a quarter of the city folks are employed in factories that produce toxic chemicals.

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Norilsk, Russia

  • Pollution Level
  • Population (177,506)
  • Numbers of Death
  • Type of Pollutants – Sulfur dioxide, particulates, phenol, hydrogen sulfide, nickel, copper, cobalt, lead, selenium
  • Industries – Mining, Processing

Another mining cities that are borrowing time from the future, Norilsk AKA snow black city, is the northernmost and second largest and city in Russia located above the Arctic Circle. With a population of 177,506, Norilsk is the world’s largest heavy metals smelting complex that releases more than 4 million tons of cadmium, copper, lead, nickel oxides, arsenic, selenium, zinc, and sulfur dioxide annually. Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest producer of palladium and one of the largest producers of Nickel, platinum, and copper plays a big role in the city’s air pollution.

The folks in Norilsk are breathing and exposed to sulfur dioxide contamination every day. Children living close to the copper plant has the biggest health impact that mostly related respiratory diseases like asthma, COPD, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and lung cancer. Study has shown the life expectancy of plant workers is 10 years shorter than average Russian. A dated study estimates that air pollution in Norilsk is responsible for 37% of children’s and 21.6% of adult morbidity.

Things are on a better turn with Norilsk Nickel own initiative, pressure from NGO and other environmental protection agency to reduce the volume of sulfur dioxide emission. Nonetheless, the air pollution in Norilsk is on the undesirable level and this is not the city you want to be part with.

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Chernobyl, Ukraine

  • Pollution Level
  • Population (Deserted)
  • Numbers of Death
  • Type of Pollutants – radioactive substances (iodine-131, caesium-137, strontium-90)
  • Industries – Nuclear power plant disaster

Think Fallout, Think Chernobyl. The horror Chernobyl disaster that completely destroys the city and is inhabitable even till this day. This catastrophic accident happened in the town of Pripyat, northern Ukrainian SSR with a population of 49,360. On the 25–26 April 1986, the No. 4 nuclear reactor exploded due to the combination of reactor design flawed and human error. It is believed the plant operators made several fatal mistakes during the internal radioactive contamination experiment. That ultimately causes the No. 4 reactor to meltdown and the fire helps spread the radiation into the atmosphere within 1,000 sq mi (2,600 km2).

While the death toll counts are debatable due to the complication for short-term and long-term health impact plus incomplete sources from different parties, a joint consortium between the UN and the governments of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia concluded no fewer than 93,000 death is directly associated with Chernobyl disaster pollution. Around 4,000 cases confirmed to have thyroid cancer from acute radiation syndrome. It is estimated the radioactive pollution will remain in Chernobyl for another 20,000 years. This is the world’s worst nuclear disaster to date and god knows what will happen in the future.

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Mailuu-Suu, Kyrgyzstan

  • Pollution Level
  • Population (22,853)
  • Numbers of Death
  • Type of Pollutants – Uranium
  • Industries – Mining, Processing

Mailuu-Suu is a former mining town notorious for its uranium pollution. Located in Jalal-Abad Region of southern Kyrgyzstan with a population of 22,853 in 2009 (Wikipedia), Mailuu-Suu processed more than 10,000 tons of uranium ore that most of it are supplied to the USSR’s nuclear weapons program. Because of the continuous uranium production between 1946 to 1968, there are 36 radioactive waste dumps scattered across the town of the left-over uranium tailings. To make matter worst, Mailuu-Suu is also prone to landslides, earthquakes, and floods. Many improper handling of the waste dumps that poses a high environmental risk such as water contamination. In 1958, a single landslide resulted in the release of more than 500,000 m³ radioactive waste into the Mailuu-Suu River.

NO this is not comic, uranium will not give you superpower. Inhaling to uranium compounds can cause permanent damage to your bone, lung, and kidney. More than 20,000 of Mailuu-Suu people within its 50 sq mi (120 km2) territory is still suffering from detrimental health effects particularly kidney and lung cancer. No official death tolls available but almost everyone here in Mailuu-Suu associates’ death with uranium poison.

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临汾 Linfen, China

  • Pollution Level
  • Population (4,316,612)
  • Numbers of Death
  • Type of Pollutants – Fly ash, PM2.5/ PM10 particles, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, arsenic, lead, VOCs
  • Industries – Mining, Processing

Linfen is a controversial inclusion as the air pollution has significantly dropped due to the stricter government stance and many initiatives by the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Make no mistake though, it is still a coal mining city and coals is the main source of China energy. With a huge population of 4,316,612 inhabitants, the outcome of many unregulated coal mines and processing refineries have cost an epidemic air and water contamination. Nearby residents are literally breathing coal dust filled with sulfur dioxide and other compounds like as sulfuric acid, sulfurous acid, and sulfate particles into their body.

Like most cases associated with SO2 poisoning, locals dying from respiratory tract infection, organ failure, bronchitis, pneumonia, and lung cancer is on a rise including the young one. If air pollution is not bad enough, Linfen water contamination is also at an alarming level that at times is undrinkable due to the high level of arsenic. Arsenicosis is the direct result of arsenic poisoning over a long period of 5 to 20 years. Chronic drinking water rich with arsenic is linked with various blood vessels diseases, skin conditions, and bladder, kidney, lung cancer.

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Sukinda, India

  • Pollution Level
  • Population (80,344)
  • Numbers of Death
  • Type of Pollutants – Hexavalent chromium
  • Industries – Chromite mining, processing

The chromite paradise for manufacturer and a hellhole for the good people in Sukinda. With a relatively small population of 80,344 (2011 data), Sukinda is technically a valley town (as opposed to city) in Jajpur district, Odisha, India. Odisha itself accounts for about 98% of the total chromium ore deposits of the country. With chromite mining is core businesses, most mining operation in the area has almost zero environmental controls. Air pollution along with soil and water contamination is the root cause of the health catastrophe for all the mining workers. 60% of the drinking water in Sukinda contains hexavalent chromium at levels more than double of an international recommended guideline.

Chromite mining has acute health Impacts on the mine workers and nearby residents that are constantly exposed to dust and other airborne pollutants. Orissa Voluntary Health Association (OVHA) report solidified the claims that 84.75% of deaths in the mining areas occurred due to chromite-mine linked diseases. Respiratory issues like Gastrointestinal bleeding, tuberculosis, COPD and Bronchitis are some of the devastating outcomes. Locals that relies on the hexavalent chromium contaminated water are suffering from pollution-induced diseases like kidney, bladder failure. Pregnant women would have a high risk of Infertility, Impotence, birth defects, SIDS, and stillbirths.

Like most cities listed here, stricter regulations have seen gradual improvement on the air quality in Sukinda. Is it enough to improve the health condition of the inhabitants here? Probably not but as cliché goes, every little bit helps to build for the better future.

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Sumgayit, Azerbaijan

  • Pollution Level
  • Population (298,000)
  • Numbers of Death
  • Type of Pollutants – Chemicals, mercury, other heavy metals
  • Industries – Chemical, Chlorine manufacturing

A country not many of you have heard of. Sumgayit is the third-largest city in Azerbaijan with a territory of 32 sq mi (83 km2). Formerly one of the largest chemical industrial complexes during Soviet Era, Sumgayit is located next to the Caspian Sea and has a population of 298,000. Many of them worked in companies that produced industrial chemicals like chlorine, detergents, pesticides and heavy metals. As the country heavily depends on the manufacturing industry as part of their GDP, an estimated 120,000 tons of harmful emissions were released into the air annually. Adding the improper pollution controls into the equation, the once clear blue sky city is now replaced with dense, chemically smell, dark smoke particles.

The high levels of air pollution are the main contributor to the increased morbidity from various respiratory diseases. A joint study by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Health Organization (WHO), Azerbaijan Republic Ministry of Health and the University of Alberta concluded that the inhabitants of Sumgayit have a 22-51% higher cancer morbidity and 8% mortality than the rest of Azerbaijan. Mother with infertility, SIDS, and stillbirth are a common theme. Many babies are born premature, stillborn, or with genetic birth defects like downs syndrome, anencephaly, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, and mutations.

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La Oroya, Peru

  • Pollution Level
  • Population (21,756)
  • Numbers of Death
  • Type of Pollutants – Lead, zinc, copper, sulfur dioxide
  • Industries – Heavy metal mining, processing

Peru is famous for its world heritage site, sun-worshiping ancient ruins, Ayahuasca/ Shamans ceremonies and regrettably La Oroya, the mining pit. A beautiful city on the River Mantaro and located 176km of the national capital Lima. small-scale mining activities began as early as 1533 by a small Spanish establishment but it wasn’t until 1893, when the city starts to develop with railway and mining operation boosted gradually. The rapid growth of metal demand across the globe means more and more mining workers are constantly inhaling to the toxic emissions from the unregulated plant. The excess wastes have also polluted the river and soil used by the locals for their livelihood.

As one of the world’s worst polluted places, La Oroya 21,756 inhabitants are regularly exposed to a high concentration level of sulfur dioxide toxic that caused inflammation and diseases of the respiratory system. 99% of children living in La Oroya have blood lead levels that exceeded tolerable limits, Lead is a type of metal poisoning that can cause damage to the brain. Children younger than 6 years are very vulnerable to lead poisoning as it will affect their mental and physical development. Studies also shown newborn have higher blood lead levels that are inherited from the mother while still in the womb.

Few remediation measures are ongoing, none more impactful than Doe Run, the smelter/ copper mine company running the Environmental Remediation and Management Program. Among the notable changes are cleaner, new sulfuric acid plants, use of oxygenated gases in the anodic residue plant, installing water treatment plant for the copper refinery, and a recirculation system at the smelter.

Kabwe, Zambia
Image by DON PUGH

Kabwe, Zambia

  • Pollution Level
  • Population (202,914)
  • Numbers of Death
  • Type of Pollutants – Lead, cadmium, silver, manganese, vanadium, titanium
  • Industries – Mining, processing

When your city name means ‘ore’ or ‘smelting’, you know the air quality is going to drop like flies. Located about 87miles (140km) north of the nation’s capital Lusaka, Kabwe or Broken Hill (until 1966), has an estimated population of 202,914 that is known for its mining and transportation center. Since the discovery of lead and zinc deposits in 1902, Kabwe has always been a mining industrial hub that focuses on lead, zinc processing while also produced silver, manganese, cadmium, vanadium, and titanium (part of heavy metals). With no restriction and regulation, air pollution is the consequence of the major downfall follow by heavy metal tailings that contaminated the local water supply.

Workers and local are regularly exposed to lead toxic through airborne dust. Like the children in La Oroya, most of them have extremely high blood lead concentration levels (average 50 and 100 µg/dl) that will have a detrimental effect on their mental and physical development. Other than miner worker and residents staying nearby mining sites, many unsuspected children who play in the contaminated soil and men scavenge the mines for scraps of metal suffer the most lead poisoning. Respiratory illnesses and diseases are very common for the good people of Kabwe.

Today, most mining and smelting has halted to address the ongoing pollution issue but the leftover waste and toxic would remain in the soil for many decades.

Be thankful for what you have. Clean air is a fundamental right that not everyone is born with it. The World Health Organization estimates that 4.2 million people deaths every year directly attributable to ambient air pollution. An even more scary stats that 91% of the world’s population lives in poor air quality places that exceeded WHO guideline limits. If you are the unfortunate bunch that is born in one of those cities, your body has probably been exposed to x amount of pollution that will have a major health impact by the time you are independently ready to decide your own path.

Please note the list below is not sorted in any particular order.

Most Air Polluted City in The World

Max Fernandez

A loving father and a dedicated reviewer for airfuji.com with more than 1000 air purifiers under his belt. Max Fernandez is also one of the million patients currently suffering from asthma. Feel free to nudge him if you have any questions.