Polluted Cities – The poor pay the price

Every country in the world will present their main cities in the best possible light whenever possible, showing off the most romantic, those filled with nature and greenery, or even those with the best nightlife.

What about the hidden cities? The ones that don’t have these features and are kept from view.

The ones with huge chimneys instead of skyscrapers.

The ones that are uniformly grey, instead of interspaced with greenery.

In most cases, these huge sprawling cities are industrial homes – built for industry, not for people.

When this is the reality that you are presented with, who pays the price for the industrial development?

Pollution – Why is it such an issue?

The reason why deaths as a result of air pollution are so underreported is a mystery. Maybe it doesn’t grab headlines in the way large media corporations want their stories too. Maybe it is too easy to write off as scaremongering – whatever the reason, the annual death toll as a result of air pollution is simply staggering.

It is estimated that air pollution will claim the lives of 7 million people every single year.

This is more than the entire population of Scotland.

WHO data shows that 90% of the worlds’ population will be breathing in air exceeding WHO guideline limits for levels of pollutants. It is poorer countries that make up the largest proportion of this figure, with low and middle-income countries regularly suffering from the highest exposure.

Air pollution can be so bad that it can come in the form of smog smothering vast cities – slowly poisoning the population below. The combined effects of outdoor and household air pollution contribute to nearly 7 million premature deaths every year.

This is largely down to the increased risk of mortality from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and other acute respiratory infections.

Congestion and Air Pollution

When we think of pollution it likely inspires images of massive tailbacks of static traffic winding through sprawling metropolises. Cars are, unsurprisingly, a massive part of the problem. It is hard to justify their use when they are used to travel a handful of miles in an hour, for the most part just sitting idling alongside millions of others – belching out fumes into the atmosphere.

As we have already mentioned, poorer nations feel the effects of air pollution most severely. As such, we have decided to attempt to divide the groupings for this article by continent – to provide a variety of representative cities.

For the following examples, all data comes from the tomtom.com traffic index and is true for 2020. The index tracks 416 cities across 57 countries providing free and reliable information.



Congestion Level: 36%

World Ranking: 30th



Congestion Level: 53%

World Ranking: 2nd

Australia & Oceania:


Congestion Level: 29%

World Ranking: 63rd


Moscow Region (Oblast)

Congestion Level: 54%

World Ranking: 1st

North America:

Mexico City

Congestion Level: 36%

World Ranking: 29th

South America:


Congestion Level: 53%

World Ranking: 3rd


One method of reporting air quality is to use the US AQI – the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) index. It is something that many of us will have encountered before but have not paid any particular notice to. It is especially prudent to have a basic understanding of how it works before moving on to the next section.

The AQI is often thought of as a yardstick that runs from 0 to 500 with the higher the AQI value, the higher the levels of air pollution (and thus, greater the health concern). Any AQI value of 50 or lower generally represents good air quality and anything higher than 300 represents hazardous air quality.

For each pollutant, an AQI value of 100 generally corresponds to an ambient air concentration that equals the level of the short-term ambient air quality standard for the protection of public health. Generally, any values around 100 or lower are satisfactory.

Anything above this is usually thought to be unhealthy – initially only for certain vulnerable or sensitive groups of people then moving on to the wider population as the value increases.

The AQI itself is separated into six categories with each category corresponding to a different level of health concern. Each has its own unique colour to make it easier for people to identify if the air quality in their community is unhealthy.

The AQI scale is shown below:

Daily AQI ColourLevels of ConcernValues of IndexDescription of Air Quality
GreenGood0 to 50Air quality is satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risk.
YellowModerate51 to 100Air quality is acceptable. However, there may be a risk for some people, particularly those who are unusually sensitive to air pollution.
OrangeUnhealthy for Sensitive Groups101 to 150Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is less likely to be affected.
RedUnhealthy151 to 200Some members of the general public may experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.
PurpleVery Unhealthy201 to 300Health alert: The risk of health effects is increased for everyone.
MaroonHazardous301 and higherHealth warning of emergency conditions: everyone is more likely to be affected.

Air Quality and Pollution – the worst cities right now

By using the US AQI, it is possible to get a real idea of the scale of the problem.

The world is clearly aware of climate change, pollution, NET zero, carbon dioxide, emissions, or whatever other buzzwords you care to use – but for whatever reason, the seriousness of the situation hasn’t quite sunk in for most.

Sometimes all that is needed is a scary number and some colours to really drive the point home.

All of the data for the this section has come from iqair.com and is accurate as of the 1st September, 2021. For the purpose of this article, there will be a focus on cities with solid population numbers.

CityUS AQIConclusion
Santiago132Unhealthy for sensitive groups

Table showing top 5 US AQI as of 1st September 2021, 4:30PM GMT

PM2.5 – Particulate Matter

All of the data for this section has come from iqair.com and is accurate as of the 1st September, 2021. For the purpose of this article, there will be a focus on cities with solid population numbers. Shown are the worst cities based on PM2.5 levels throughout the year (fine particles in the air).



2020 average: 37.9

Additional Notes: April 2020 saw PM2.5 highs of 78.2.

Conclusion: Unhealthy for sensitive groups



2020 average: 110.2

Additional Notes: March 2020 PM2.5 was 264.4.

Conclusion: Unhealthy

Australia & Oceania:


2020 average: 17.3

Additional Notes: January 2020 PM2.5 levels were 72.5.

Conclusion: Moderate



2020 average: 44.1

Additional Notes: Air quality was lowest throughout the winter. PM2.5 levels for November, December, and January being 81.5, 96.3, and 92.9 respectively.

Conclusion: Unhealthy for sensitive groups

North America:

Yosemite Lakes

2020 average: 37.8

Additional Notes: September saw highs of 114.2 for PM2.5 levels.

Conclusion: Unhealthy for sensitive groups

South America:


2020 average: 33.3

Additional Notes: December saw lows of 6.4 for PM2.5 levels.

Conclusion: Moderate

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