Report reveals 93% of the planet suffering from toxic levels of air pollution

BySam Ursu

Report reveals 93% of the planet suffering from toxic levels of air pollution

On March 19, 2024, IQAir released its sixth annual World Air Quality Report, revealing troubling details about the state of air quality across most of the world’s countries, territories, and regions. Using data collected from more than 30,000 air quality monitoring stations located in 134 countries, the report found that 92.5% of those countries have air pollution levels in excess of the World Health Organization’s safe limit of 5 micrograms of PM 2.5 particles per cubic meter.

The report also revealed that the five most polluted countries on Earth are Bangladesh (15 times higher than WHO safe limits), Pakistan (14 times higher), India (10 times higher), Tajikistan (nine times higher) and Burkina Faso (nine times higher). Furthermore, Central and South Asia were home to the top ten most polluted cities in the world, including four in India. Only seven countries on the planet (Australia, Estonia, Finland, Grenada, Iceland, Mauritius, and New Zealand) met the WHO’s safe limit for PM 2.5 particulates, and five of those were island nations.

“A clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is a universal human right. At IQAir, we believe that air quality data saves lives because where air quality is monitored, action is taken, and then air quality improves,” said Frank Hammes, CEO of IQAir.

The scourge of PM 2.5

The World Air Quality Report strictly focuses on PM 2.5 as it is considered to be the most dangerous form of air pollution. The “PM” stands for particular matter (a mixture of solid and liquid droplets suspended in the air) while the 2.5 refers to particles that are 2.5 micrometers in size or smaller. PM 2.5 are so small that individual particles are invisible to the naked eye and can easily get into the bloodstream via inhalation into the lungs. Exposure to PM 2.5 can result in premature death for people with heart or lung disease and can contribute to cancer, strokes, aggravated asthma, heart attacks, and decreased lung function.

According to the report, just 9% of cities have air quality that does not exceed the WHO’s guidelines of 5 micrograms of PM 2.5 particles per cubic meter. PM 2.5 particles can come from some natural sources, including wildfires and dust storms, but most of it is generated by human activities such as emissions from combustion engines, industrial processes, power plants, burning wood, burning coal, agricultural activities, and construction. According to the WHO, outdoor air pollution accounted for 4.2 million deaths in 2019.

See also: The planet has a problem with air pollution. We are the cause

The World Air Quality also considers climate change to be a major driver of increased air pollution, blaming more frequent wildfires on extended dry spells and warmer temperatures for causing plants to grow more vigorously, thus emitting more pollen over longer periods of time during the year. An increase in pollen and/or smoke from wildfires has a negative impact on people suffering from allergic airway diseases such as rhinitis and asthma.

Key findings from the World Air Quality Report

A few key takeaways from this year’s World Air Quality Report:

  • One-third of African countries lack access to comprehensive air quality data.
  • Transboundary haze was a major factor in air pollution in Southeast Asia.
  • Begusarai, India, was the most polluted city on Earth in 2023.
  • The most polluted city in the United States in 2023 was Beloit, Wisconsin.
  • Las Vegas, Nevada, was the cleanest major city in the United States in 2023.
  • Canada is the most polluted country in North America, and 13 of the region’s most polluted cities are located in Canada.
  • In 2023, only 10 countries were able to meet the WHO’s annual PM 2.5 guidelines, most of which were islands in the Pacific Ocean.
  • The country in Asia with the worst air quality in 2023 was Bangladesh (79.9 µg of PM 2.5/cubic meter).
  • The country in Africa with the worst air quality in 2023 was Egypt (42.4 µg of PM 2.5/cubic meter).
  • The country in Europe with the worst air quality in 2023 was Bosnia Herzegovina (27.5 µg of PM 2.5/cubic meter).
  • The country in Latin America with the worst air quality in 2023 was Mexico (20.1 µg of PM 2.5/cubic meter).
  • The five countries or territories with the best air quality were French Polynesia (3.2 µg PM 2.5/m3), Mauritius (3.5 µg PM 2.5/m3), Iceland (4 µg PM 2.5/m3), Grenada (4.1 µg PM 2.5/m3) and Bermuda (4.1 µg PM 2.5/m3).
  • The five major urban areas with the lowest air pollution in 2023 were San Juan (Puerto Rico), Wellington (New Zealand), Canberra (Australia), Reykjavik (Iceland), and Hamilton (Bermuda).
  • Only 0.2% of cities in East Asia met the WHO’s guidelines for PM 2.5. The three most polluted countries in this region were China, Mongolia, and Taiwan.
  • Only 0.9% of cities in Central and South Asia met the WHO’s guidelines for PM 2.5. The three most polluted countries were Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India.
  • None of the cities in West Asia (including the Middle East) met the WHO’s guidelines for PM 2.5. Two of the most polluted countries in the world, Iraq and UAE, are located in this region.
  • 54.9% of cities in Oceania met the WHO’s guidelines for PM 2.5 Every country in this region had minimal air pollution issues, including Australia. Even the most polluted city in the region (Tokoroa, New Zealand) had air quality levels only slightly above WHO-recommended guidelines.

Despite these statistics, there is little hope that air quality will improve unless there is a large-scale effort to construct buildings and houses in a more sustainable way, adopt non-polluting forms of transportation, and new methods of generating energy and providing heat. Otherwise, air pollution will continue to cause millions of deaths every year.

See also: Can artificial weather events mitigate the air pollution problem? | Experts’ Opinions

IQAir is a for-profit air quality technology business headquartered in Switzerland that has published an annual World Air Quality report since 2018. IQAir publishes an interactive global map of air pollution which can be accessed here. More information about air pollution and its effects on the environment can be found on the United Nations UNEP website.