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A man wearing an air mask walks through downtown Shanghai, China. The sky is filled with smog.
Reuters/Aly Song
Just trying to get a breath of fresh air.
DEEP BREATHS

Every country has terrible air pollution, but these are the world’s worst

Katherine Ellen Foley
By Katherine Ellen Foley

Health and science reporter

Air pollution from industrial activity isn’t just an environmental concern—it’s a major public health problem, too.

In a report (pdf) released Tuesday (Sept. 27), the World Health Organization (WHO) found that 92% of the population breathes air with unhealthy levels of pollutants. WHO collected air quality data from 3,000 locations across the globe and looked for concentrations of fine particulate matter, including sulfates, nitrates, mineral dust, and black carbon, which are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter—about 1/1000 of a millimeter, or the width of a credit card. Both indoors and outdoors, these particles work their way into the lungs when we breathe, and can cause cardiovascular disease like lung cancer, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

According to the report, one in every nine deaths per year—about six million total—can be attributed to breathing in unhealthy concentrations of these particles. The map below shows the median levels of air pollution in entire countries. Of course, within a country there can be a wide range of air pollution levels from location to location, and these measurements tended to be much higher in cities and lower in rural areas. ”Safe” levels of fine particulate matter, according to WHO, are about 10 micrograms of particles per cubic meter, but most countries far surpassed those levels.

Concentrations of fine particulate matter air pollution.

In 2015, reducing health consequences by air pollution was added to the list of sustainable development goals. The table below shows all the median levels of particulate matter in each country where the WHO collected data.

CountryMedian fine part particulate matter (micrograms per cubic meter)
Saudi Arabia108
Qatar103
Egypt93
Bangladesh84
Kuwait75
Cameroon65
Mauritania65
Nepal64
United Arab Emirates64
India62
Libya61
Bahrain60
Pakistan60
Niger59
Uganda57
China54
Myanmar51
Iraq50
Bhutan48
Oman48
Afghanistan46
Sudan44
Rwanda43
Yemen43
Bosnia and Herzegovina42
Iran42
Tajikistan41
Congo40
Central African Republic39
Chad39
Djibouti39
Gambia39
Nigeria39
Burundi38
Democratic Republic
of the Congo
38
Burkina Faso37
Macedonia37
Cabo Verde36
Jordan36
Tunisia36
El Salvador35
Eritrea35
Honduras35
Senegal34
Syrian Arab Republic34
Turkey34
Equatorial Guinea33
Guatemala32
Uzbekistan32
Benin31
Ethiopia30
Gabon30
Lebanon30
Mali29
Nicaragua29
South Sudan29
Togo28
Algeria27
Angola27
Bolivia27
Bulgaria27
Democratic People’s
Republic of Korea
27
Guinea-Bissau27
Laos27
Republic of Korea27
South Africa27
Sri Lanka27
Thailand27
Peru26
Viet Nam26
Turkmenistan25
Azerbaijan24
Ghana24
Poland24
Cambodia23
Zambia23
Belize22
Côte d’Ivoire22
Haiti22
Malawi22
Montenegro22
Philippines22
United Republic
of Tanzania
22
Venezuela22
Armenia21
Guinea21
Hungary21
Chile20
Czech Republic20
Mexico20
Mongolia20
Morocco20
Zimbabwe20
Croatia19
Georgia19
Israel19
Latvia19
Romania19
Serbia19
Slovakia19
Costa Rica18
Lesotho18
Lithuania18
Namibia18
Slovenia18
Swaziland18
Belarus17
Colombia17
Cuba17
Cyprus17
Italy17
Madagascar17
Mozambique17
Republic of Moldova17
Sierra Leone17
Singapore17
Albania16
Austria16
Botswana16
Comoros16
Dominican Republic16
Jamaica16
Kenya16
Luxembourg16
Maldives16
Somalia16
Suriname16
Ukraine16
Belgium15
Guyana15
Kazakhstan15
Kyrgyzstan15
Malaysia15
Netherlands15
Paraguay15
Russian Federation15
Saint Lucia15
Timor-Leste15
Barbados14
Germany14
Grenada14
Indonesia14
Malta14
Mauritius14
Antigua and Barbuda13
Argentina13
Bahamas13
Dominica13
Ecuador13
Japan13
Saint Vincent13
Sao Tome and Principe13
Seychelles13
Trinidad and Tobago13
France12
Greece12
Panama12
Switzerland12
United Kingdom12
Uruguay11
Andorra10
Brazil10
Denmark10
Papua New Guinea10
Ireland9
Monaco9
Norway9
Portugal9
Spain9
Estonia8
Iceland8
Liberia8
United States of America8
Canada7
Finland7
Australia6
Fiji6
Micronesia6
Sweden6
Vanuatu6
Brunei Darussalam5
Kiribati5
New Zealand5
Solomon Islands5
Tuvaluno data
Cook Islandsno data
Marshall Islandsno data
Nauruno data
Niueno data
Palauno data
Saint Kitts and Nevisno data
Samoano data
San Marinono data
Tongano data

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