The air pollution crisis is ongoing, and with more than 92% of the world’s population living in areas that exceed the levels deemed safe by the World Health Organization (WHO), the issue is a global one. 

While it’s common knowledge that poor air quality is damaging for both humans and the environment (and often the cause of potentially fatal conditions such as lung disease, heart disease and strokes), the same culprit is sometimes responsible for other, lesser-known health and behavioural problems.

Here, we reveal the unexpected medical issues that can occur as a result of polluted air.

Bad behaviour

Is your teen acting up more than usual? Do you live in an urban area that’s known for poor air quality? It’s entirely possible that the young adults in your house are showing bad behaviour as a result of worsening air quality. No, really.

A study featured in The Times found that unhealthy air causes bad behaviour in children and teens. Researchers have reported that young people residing in areas of poorer air quality would start to show signs of bad behaviour upon reaching adolescence. 

Irregular periods

Recent findings have indicated that air pollution can wreak havoc with female hormones, and thus cause irregular menstrual cycles – in teenage girls aged 14 to 18 especially. A new study has indicated that teen girls exposed to contaminated air will have a higher chance of menstrual irregularity, and will likely have a long wait to achieve a more stable cycle.

Author of the study, Shruthi Mahalingaiah, explained the research in more details in a story published by Science Daily. “While air pollution exposures have been linked to cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases, this study suggests there may be other systems, such as the reproductive endocrine system, that are affected as well,” she revealed.

Poor mental health

The impact of air pollution on the human body is also evident when it comes to mental health. A recent study carried out in Hong Kong had some shocking findings – poor air doesn’t just make those with mental health issues worse, but actually increases their risk of mortality.

Having analysed 10 years’ worth of data, researchers noted a strong link between smog and mortality in a story featured in The Guardian. The risk of death rose by 16% on the first day of haze, and on the 27% on the second day in comparison with normal days. In addition to this, on days when ozone pollution was present alongside the smog, the risk of death shot up by a staggering 79%.

Image courtesy of Daria Nepriakhina, Unsplash

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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some of the latest global air quality statistics revealed that more than 80% of people living in urban areas that monitor air quality are exposed to levels that exceed WHO recommendations. These levels are calculated by counting particulate matter (PM), or particulates, which are microscopic solids or liquids that cannot be seen by the naked eye. These tiny inhalable particles are then divided into categories, two major ones being PM 10 and PM 2.5 – the first being coarse particulates that have a diameter between 2.5 and 10 micrometres (μm), and the second being fine particulates with a diameter of 2.5 μm or less – these are common in smoke, soot and dust.

The size of these particles is a major factor when it comes to determining how dangerous they are when inhaled. The larger matter can be filtered upon entering the nose and mouth by mucus and cilia, but particles smaller than 10 micrometres can pose a much more serious threat. How? Well, they can evade these biological barriers, and settle in the deepest parts of the lungs, which can lead to serious health issues.

As well as being linked to obvious conditions such as asthma, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease, these particulates can also have a detrimental effect on fertility, pregnancy and lifespan. Unsurprisingly, PM levels are dangerously high in areas that are highly polluted, and many countries across the globe still have a very long way to go when it comes to battling emissions. Both the World Health Organization and the Environmental Protection Agency have both issues recommended PM limits, but some of the most polluted cities are 20 times that. Here are ten of the most polluted places on earth according to WHO – you might be surprised by some of them.




Annual Mean: 90 μg/m3 of PM 2.5

Warning Type: Severe

Located in north-western Nigeria, Kaduna is both a trade centre and transportation hub that has witnessed rapid urbanisation over the last ten tears – something that can lead to an array of problems, including inadequate infrastructure, congestion, poverty and of course, pollution.

Year: 2013




Annual Mean: 93 μg/m3 of PM 2.5

Warning Type: Severe

Qatar is known to many as a hub for building and construction, which is likely to be a key reason behind the country’s serious air pollution problem.

Year: 2012




Annual Mean: 104 μg/m3 of PM 2.5

Warning Type: Severe

While Uganda is renowned for its abundant wildlife and stunning landscapes, it is also home to something much uglier. According to researchers, vehicle emissions are responsible for the majority of the pollution in Uganda.

Year: 2013




Annual Mean: 106 μg/m3 of PM 2.5

Warning Type: Severe

A 2014 report conducted by the World Health Organization found that Bangladesh was extremely polluted, with the South Asian country home to high levels of gaseous pollutants, as well as dust particles. The city of Narayanganj is also home to a busy brick manufacturing industry, which speaks for itself.

Year: 2014




Annual Mean: 111 μg/m3 of PM 2.5

Warning Type: Severe

Towards the end of last year, Peshawar in Pakistan was displaying critical air pollution levels – and it wasn’t down to one factor. Vehicle emissions, construction, dust, poor-quality roadworks and fumes from burning waste are all to blame for the country’s polluted air.

Year: 2010




Annual Mean: 128 μg/m3 of PM 2.5

Warning Type: Severe

Xingtai is renowned for its coal – more specifically, its coal-burning factories. The city is heavily polluted due to its huge industrial presence.

Year: 2014




Annual Mean: 132 μg/m3 of PM 2.5

Warning Type: Severe

A combination of rapid urbanization and soil erosion is most likely to blame for the poor air quality in Cameroon, Africa.

Year: 2012




Annual Mean: 156 μg/m3 of PM 2.5

Warning Type: Severe

Riyadh isn’t just Saudi Arabia’s largest city – it’s also its most polluted. Previous WHO reports have declared sandstorms, traffic and industrial waste as the culprits behind the majority of the pollutants in Saudi’s air.

Year: 2014



City: Gwalior

Annual Mean: 176 μg/m3 of PM 2.5

Warning Type: Severe

Just under 200 miles away from a previous winner of the “Most Polluted City” competition, Delhi, lies a major Indian city known as Gwalior. While pollution from vehicles is a factor to take into consideration, the emissions don’t stop there. An increased use of fossil fuels is another reason for the dangerously unhealthy air, and buildings that aren’t energy efficient could also be to blame.

Year: 2012



City: Zabol

Annual Mean: 217 μg/m3 of PM 2.5

Warning Type: Severe

Earlier this year, a study published in the Preventive Medicine journal declared that 30 minutes of cycling in the heavily polluted city of Zabol, Iran, would do the individual more harm than good. Named by the World Health Organization as the most polluted city on earth in 2016, Zabol is renowned in the region for its 120-day wind – a relentless summer dust storm that sweeps the area from north to south.

Year: 2012

The data featured in this article was taken from the World Health Organization’s 2016 ‘Ambient (outdoor) air pollution database, by country and city’ spreadsheet.


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Many people assume that air pollution is only associated with car fumes and industrial power plants, but the reality is quite different. In fact, polluted air can be caused by an array of factors – and a lot of them are found in and around our homes. Everyday activities such as cooking and cleaning can cause the number of pollutants in our kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms to rise dramatically – and unfortunately, many people don’t realise the impact they are having on their indoor environment.

Here, we outline five causes of air pollution that might surprise you.


The next time you’re preparing a meal or heating something up on the stove, make sure you open a window and ventilate your kitchen – especially if you’re frying something. A study conducted at Texas State and Utah State universities found that water, when combined with hot oil, creates minuscule droplets of fat that are thrown into the air and are small enough to be inhaled. However, anything that involves combustion could potentially to your health and the quality of air in your home.


Need an excuse to avoid your chores for another week? You’re in luck. There’s a vast number of cleaning products found in homes all over the world that could have a negative impact on your health. Sure, there’s a list of scary-sounding chemicals and symbols on the packaging of many of them, but there’s more to it than that. A lot of manufacturers don’t publish the full list of chemicals used inside their product, because they simply don’t have to. According to the Huffington Post, non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) studied more than 2,000 different household cleaning products and the results were worrying. A lot of the tested items were found to contain chemicals linked to asthma, allergies and even cancer.


If you own a wood-burning stove, you’ll know how warm and cosy they can make your indoor environment come winter. However, they’re not as family friendly as you’d think. According to King’s College London, domestic wood burning is responsible for a huge amount of London’s fine particle pollution – between a quarter and a third, to be more precise. Additional studies had even more concerning results. The Guardian reported on a stove switching programme that took place between 2005 and 2007, where old, polluting wood-burning stoves were replaced with newer alternatives. The study found that after the replacement, there were fewer cases of children suffering from respiratory issues.


While many claim that e-cigarettes and vapes are a safer alternative to smoking, scientists beg to differ. A story published by The Telegraph touched on research carried out by professionals at the University of California, in which human cells were subjected to smoke particles of e-cigarettes. The results? Not great. The cells used in the experiment were damaged and died soon after contact with the chemicals.


It might seem obvious that driving at higher speeds isn’t exactly healthy for the environment, but did you know that braking causes pollution too? While low-emission zones are becoming more prominent, both speeding up and slowing down are detrimental to the environment. Ralph Bagge, the leader of South Bucks District Council, commented on the topic when speaking with The Independent. “Smooth driving reduces emissions and stop-start acceleration and deceleration braking is harmful,” he explained. “It is putting out more through the tailpipe, but secondly braking is also grinding bits of very fine particulate matter which goes into the atmosphere,” he concluded.

Image courtesy of Kevin McCutcheon, Unsplash

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