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Most Polluted Cities - Earth's Worst 30 Cities

By Simon Williams
November 15, 2016

It is shocking to see the threat that pollution has on the world. There are several cities around the globe that have succumbed to different forms of pollution that is making them uninhabitable. Hopefully the images and stories that are presented in this article will inspire you to change your habits and work towards an eco-friendly system that minimises any risk to the environment. Take a read through out shortlist of the 30 most polluted cities on earth.

When you are done, if you want to make an impact on the environment yourself, you should check out our free cartridge recycling scheme. Simply purchase your printer cartridges from Cartridges Direct, receive your free recycling satchel and post free of charge at your nearest Australian Post parcel drop. It's as simple as that.

1. Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana


Image source:The New Inquirer

Known to be one of the world's wastebaskets, Agbogbloshie has one of the worst landfill problems. The reason why Abgogbloshie is one of the most polluted cities in the world mainly comes from first world nations. In our haste to clean up our own countries, we have been distributing electronic waste to Agbogbloshie for recycling. However, much of the waste that is sent is junk that cannot be reused and is illegal under the Basel Convention.

The result of this is uncompostable landfill which has contaminated the ground and water supply. This not only negatively affects the health of the locals, it has already killed thousands.

2. Guiyu, China


Image credit: Basel Action Network

Known as the world's electronic graveyard, Guiyu is China’s capital for recycling e-waste products. In less than 20 years, the city has transformed from a farming community to a bustling centre of trade where locals recycle e-waste to extract precious metals. 

This extraction process leaves toxic by-products, which are disposed into local waterways and landfill. The practice has caused the Guiyu's water and agriculture to become contaminated; resulting in many of the locals fall victim to ill health. What’s worse, the damage that is done seems to be irreversible. In the long-term, it will lead to population displacement because of the detrimental living conditions.

3. Onitsha, Nigeria


Image credit: Hodhod News

The World Health Organisation (WHO) ranks Onitsha, a city in Nigeria as the top polluted city in the world. The city’s air quality recorded more than 30 times the WHO’s recommended levels of PM10 particles. Additionally, the city’s water has been contaminated from landfill, waste and chemicals. Without reputable recycling schemes, cities like Onitsha fall victim to a constant barrage of undisposable waste.

4. Lagos, Nigeria

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Image credit: Udeozochibuzo

The World Bank is concerned with the rising levels of pollution in Lagos. The city is growing at a rapid rate, however the pollution of the city’s water, air and environment threaten the lives of its citizens. The WHO estimated that 7 million people died as a result of indoor and outdoor air pollution in 2012 and that it is costing the Nigerian economy 1% of its total national income.

Although the city has started committing to making improvements, they are still being impacted by e-waste from First World Countries that adds to landfill sites in Lagos and around the country. There are several issues that need to be addressed promptly and the city is facing a race against time. 

5. Delhi, India


Image source: Chat DD

National Geographic states New Delhi as the capital territory of India that is home to unbreathable air and undrinkable water. Given the size of the New Dehli, this has to be one of the most densly populated polluted cities on earth. Industrial businesses dump their toxic chemical waste into the Yamuna River, which has left the river blanketed in toxic foam. Additionally, the city’s landfill is constantly burning and emitting toxic fumes across the city.

Despite the city’s pollution, the city’s population continues to grow and unless serious change is implemented, the pollution will severely affect the city’s residents health over the long-term.

6. Norilsk, Russia

Norilsk - Daldykan River.jpg

Image credit: Siberian Times

Known to be one of the most polluted cities in Europe, Norilsk is infamous for having a river that runs red. Whilst the picture looks somewhat stunning, the river sends “Death Clouds” into neighbouring countries. Additionally, the factories within Norilsk are known to emit sulphur dioxide into ;the air. Sulphur dioxide is harmful to the human respiratory system and also kills plants and trees.  

7. Niger River Delta, Nigeria

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Image credit: Zougla

The boom from the petroleum industry has contributed heavily to the pollution of the Niger River Delta. Since the rise of Nigeria’s petroleum industry, there have been over 7000 oil spills that have affected the vegetation and wildlife that live in the River Delta. The oil spills have contributed to the loss of rainforests and mangroves that were essential for maintaining the ecosystem around the River Delta.

8. Rio Matanza-Riachuelo, Argentina

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Image credit: Hydrate Life

This river in Argentina has been polluted for years by sewerage, industrial waste and garbage. It’s estimated that 82,000 litres of industrial waste enters the river daily. A local resident has said, “Every river is a source of life but this river is a synonym for death.” 

9. Kalimantan, Indonesia

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Image credit: Monipag.com

Mining is turning the once beautiful Kalimantan into a health death trap. Chemical deposits as a result of mining activity poison the waterways and release toxic vapour into the air. Furthermore, this affects the health of wildlife of which some is consumed by humans.

10. Kwabe, Zambia

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Image credit: Foros Peru

Kwabe is home to rich lead deposits, which has brought prosperity and wealth to the city at the expense of its residents health. The city’s environment has been contaminated with lead and this has affected the health of the city’s citizens. A 2006 health study claimed that the level of lead in children’s blood were five to ten times the recommended level. 

11. Hazaribagh, Bangladesh

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Image credit: Monipag.com

The pollution in Hazaribagh is heartbreaking. An estimated 22,000 litres of waste is dumped into the city’s waterways everyday. Additionally, improper disposal methods that is used to burn scraps of leather has increased the city’s air pollution and increased the risk of respiratory illnesses among its residents.

Furthermore, the city’s rivers has not shown any sign of aquatic life for a number of years.

12. Chernobyl, Ukraine


Photo credit: Eammon Butler

Since the nuclear explosion in 1986, Chernobyl has been uninhabitable due to the severe levels of radiation that have polluted the environment and threaten the health of people that go into the area. People that were exposed have reported suffering from acute radiation poisoning and symptoms of cancer. A 19-mile restriction zone still exists around the area.

13. Port-au-Prince, Haiti

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Image source: 350 Resources

The Haitian capital faces one of the worst ecology crises in the world. Less than three-quarters of the population have access to basic sanitation such as clean water and air. Those who dare to walk down the streets of Port-au-Prince will be exposed to a proliferation of waste that spans from plastic bags to bottles and polystyrene wrappings.

14. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

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Image Source: Elizabeth around the world

Tanzania’s capital city already has a high pollution problem, however things are predicted to get worse in the future unless significant improvements are made. Less than 5% of the population is connected to the city’s sewerage system, which means that raw sewerage flows into waterways. This kills marine life and increases the rate of illness and disease.

Furthermore, the city suffers from poor air quality from the vehicles that’s used in the city and mountains of solid waste popping up across the city.

15. Brazzaville, Congo

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The Congo has a major fight against pollution on its hands. The city of Brazzaville has become one of the most polluted cities in Central Africa as a result of poor air quality and waste disposal. The problem is so serious that it clogs up waterways and creates breeding spots for diseases. 

The pollution issue is predicted to escalate unless the government and its citizens commit to taking drastic measures to curb the level of pollution and clean up the city.

16. Citarum River, Indonesia


Image source: Zenkoht 

The Citarum River offers a shocking sight to any onlooker. The river is so littered with trash that you cannot even see the river below. Known as the world’s most polluted river, much of the pollution comes from the household waste of its 5 million citizens. Poor sanitation and hygiene from the river causes 50,000 deaths every year.

17. Riachuelo Basin, Argentina

Riachuelo Basin Argentina.jpg

Image credit: Nature Axis

The pollution in the Riachuelo Basin is appalling. Over 15,000 companies have polluted the river with industrial waste, sewerage and everyday garbage. The problem is 7 million people live close to the river and have been exposed to its dirty water, which has also affected the air quality and has caused health problems with residents that live along the river. 

One-third of the pollution comes from pharmaceutical, chemical or petrochemical plants along the river. Unless drastic action is taken, the river will continue to harbour toxins, degrade the environment and threaten the health of people that live nearby.

18. Mailuu-Suu, Kyrgyzstan


Image credit: Kukly Bratc

There are 23 tailing dumps and 13 rock waste dumps scattered around Mailuu-Suu in Kyrgyzstan. In 2006, Mailuu-Suu was found to be one of the most polluted cities in the world. The former Uranium mining area has left a legacy of pollution and environmental destruction that harbours radioactive waste.

19. Sukinda, India

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Image credit: Mega Artigos

Up to 2.6 million people are said to be affected by the pollution in Sukinda in India. Sukinda harbours one of the largest open cast chromite mines in the world. However, health experts believe that up to 84% of deaths in areas located close to chromite mines are caused by chromite-related illnesses.


20. Baku, Azerbaijan

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Image credit: Akshat Panday

Azerbaijan is a country that is rolling in oil money, however it has come at a significant cost to the environment. According to many scientists, the exploration of oil and gas deposits in the country has contributed to water, air and gas pollution in Azerbaijan.

21. Mexico City, Mexico

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Image credit: Akshat Panday

Mexico city’s air pollution is spiralling out of control. The level of ozone, which is a pollutant that can damage lung tissue and cause breathing difficulties are beyond the recommended limits of the World Health Organisation. The city has made vast improvements since being named the world’s most polluted city in 1992, however the government is still struggling to come up with a solution that will reduce the amount of emissions from it’s 6 million+ cars and industrial factories.

22. Yamuna River, India


Image credit: Planet Custodian

The state of the Yamuna River in India is shameful. What was once the lifeline of the country has turned into India’s most polluted river. Urban populations and large industrial units use the river as a sewerage system. After the monsoon season, it is common to find dead fish in the river due to increases in pesticides and other pollutants entering the river.

23. Tianying, China

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Image credit: Arch Daily

The semi-industrial town of Tianying in China once accounted for half of China’s lead output. After decades of pollution, much of the town’s land is uninhabitable and the water undrinkable.

24. Sumgayit, Azerbaijan

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Image credit: The Richest

The city’s air has been described as having a dense, chemical smell that causes illness and birth defects. During the Soviet era, the city had one of the highest levels of infant mortality and cancer in the USSR. The city is undergoing an oil boom that has caused chemical businesses to open up again, which is likely to threaten the environment even more.

25. Vapi, India


Image credit: Pinterest

The growth of industrial activities in the town of Vapi has severely impacted the environment. Mercury in the groundwater is 96% higher than WHO safety levels and heavy metals are present in the air.

26. Dzerzhinsk, Russia


Image credit: Akshat Panday

Dzerzhinsk is a city that’s so polluted that the life expectancy of its citizens is 45-47 years old. Chemical waste and emissions are to blame for the city’s high level of pollution. Phenol levels are meant to be 17 million times the safe limit and is home to an infamous “White Sea”.

27. Lake Karachay, Russia

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Image credit: Akshat Panday

Beautiful, maybe. However, this lake is so polluted that spending an hour there would kill you. The infamous lake is radioactive due to the Russian government dumping nuclear waste into the lake. Residents suffered from radiation poisoning and cancer, while babies were born with birth defects. Okay, so it's not one of the most polluted cities on earth, but it was definitely worth a mention!

28. La Oroya, Peru

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Image credit: Akshat Panday

The local mining town in the Peruvian Andes has been dubbed “Poison Town” due to the local lead smelter polluting the air, water and soil. Lead poisoning is a major issue that affects the local children in the area making this one of the saddest and most polluted cities on earth today.

29. Linfen, China


Image credit: China Mike

The scary thing when looking at Linfen in China is that it can remind you of an apocalyptic wasteland. It is one of the most prominent coal mines in China and the city has suffered a major decrease in air quality in exchange for wealth. The environmental damage is so severe that several residents suffer from cancer and other diseases caused by the poor air quality.

30. Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Pacific Ocean


Image source: The Inertia

Also known as the Pacific trash vortex, this polluted area of marine debris spans from the western coast of North America to Japan. The debris is a result of litter that ends up in the ocean and is estimated to be larger than the US state of Texas.

The majority of the litter that makes up the mass comes from discarded plastics, although the remaining mass is made up of cargo that gets lost at sea. The impact it has on marine life includes:

  • Minimising the amount of sunlight disrupts marine plants ability to generate food for marine life.
  • Marine life mistake plastics for food and die from starvation or ruptured organs.
  • Marine life can get tangled in invisible plastic nets and bags, causing them to drown.

31. Earth’s Orbit

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Image source: Gizmodo

It's not just the most polluted cities on earth we should worry about, the human race is even sending pollution into space! Over 25,000 human-made objects are floating around the Earth as space junk. This is usually a result of debris from humans sending objects into Space. There’s a risk that the junk could last for decades or even centuries.

If the Earth’s citizens fail to take action now, the rest of the world may face the grim realities as seen by these cities. Now it is time for us to make a change for the better.