Cough, cough. Ah, the sound of the intrepid world traveler. Those funky face masks aren’t just a fashion statement. Air pollution is a real consideration when choosing your travel destination, especially if you suffer from asthma or other breathing problems. Many an excited traveler has had their bucket-list experience dashed by a smog-filled day or from their lungs aching after a day or so of just trying to breathe.
From the discovery of fire to placing a man on the moon, humankind continually marches forward in its advancements. Early man had no knowledge of dicers and slicers, Ferraris, X-boxes, or the World Wide Web. Even the wheel had to be invented. But as we became smarter and more creative, we were oblivious to the harm we were inflicting on the very planet that gave us life.
As society’s demand for new and improved things grew, manufacturing plants began pumping more and more toxic smoke into the atmosphere. It took quite some time for the long-term results of our recklessness to become noticeable, but it finally did.
Some areas of the world are proactive in their endeavors at cleaning up their predecessor’s messes. Citizens in other areas are resorting to wearing face masks on particularly bad days, when their visibility is limited by thick polluted smog and there is zero air quality.
Some of the most magnificent sites in the world, unfortunately, lie within the most polluted areas where blue skies are an anomaly and shrouds of smog encapsulate entire cities, many times for days on end. This list is not meant to discourage anyone from going where they’ve always wanted, it’s more of a “heads-up” so they’ll know what they may encounter when they arrive.
The city of Agra, India, home to the Taj Mahal, is one of the most heavily polluted cities in the entire world. Smog can get so thick it rivals the dense ‘cut with a knife’ sea fog that San Francisco is known for, except the sea fog is a clean and natural phenomenon.
A major contributor to the pollutants, smoke, smog, and smell in Agra is one of its major industries, which entails burning old rubber tires to extract their iron content. The government places no environmental restrictions on this practice, which means they aren’t concerned about anything else either. There are days when all that is visible of the famed Taj Mahal is a faint outline and visitors are encouraged to don protective face masks. Photo ops are out of the question.
Though it isn’t saying much, Agra is clean when compared to Delhi, Mumbai, and Calcutta. Those three Indian cities are reported to have the very worst air quality on earth. Even smaller towns in India have been affected by smog pollution, including Jodhpur, the colorful “blue city”, which attracts thousands of annual visitors.
Paris is trying its darndest to go green, even banning pre-1997 automobiles to reduce carbon emissions. But with a population of 2.3-million full-time residents coupled with millions of annual visitors, it doesn’t seem to matter what they try, the sky remains consistently hazy and the air quality remains consistently poor.
Other efforts include providing free public transportation on high smog level days via the city’s extensive Metro system, but Parisians like their cars too much. To get its citizens more receptive to the idea, legislatures are considering making public transportation free every day.
In the meantime, smog and a hazy skyline still plague this international city of romance. Even from the top of the Eiffel Tower, the birds-eye view of Paris may not be what was expected. On certain days it’s like being above the clouds, if only they actually were clouds.
Los Angeles, California
Just because L.A. is located in the United States does not mean it doesn’t have an air pollution problem. In fact, the state of California is home to some of the worst offending cities found anywhere. Some of this is due to smoke from the state’s out-of-control wildfires caused by extreme dry conditions, so they get a mulligan for this one.
But not all of Los Angeles’ air problems are brought about by natural conditions. This is evidenced by taking a good look at L.A.’s freeways, especially during rush hour. Vehicles are jammed bumper to bumper, often at a stand-still, while the atmosphere is bombarded with carbon emissions. Other factors include the many diesel trucks making deliveries to the city, fireplaces which nobody really needs, and the lackadaisical attitudes of those who believe it’s someone else’s problem to worry about. As a consequence, the American Lung Association has rated Los Angeles as the absolute worst city in the U.S. for ozone pollution. The air sensitivity is often over 100, which means it isn’t safe for anyone with a sensitive breathing or allergy condition.
According to the state, they have made great strides in cleaning up the air, but according to the city’s residents and visitors, they still have a long way to go.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Riyadh is full of historic forts and modern skyscrapers that would dazzle all who visit the city, if they could only see through the smog and comfortably breathe while trying to do so. Like California, Riyadh suffers from its own natural phenomenon in the form of massive dust storms, but this in no way accounts for what they’ve done to themselves and their unwillingness to correct the matter.
In addition to being a manufacturing capital with few restrictions on harmful pollutants, the city is overly crowded with automobiles. Add this to the sand kicking up and it creates a dense fog making visibility all but non-existent. Breathing can become labored and anyone with a lung condition is advised to remain indoors on these days.
As Riyadh continues to grow, as it is rapidly doing, the situation will only worsen unless measures are taken now. Some say it’s already too late to reverse the damage, but it’s never too late to start.
As the population of the world continues to increase, our air quality continues to diminish. In some places, it isn’t bad, in others it’s atrocious. Make certain to investigate where you are going and if need be, take the necessary precautions. Designer face masks are sold online and they’re all the rage.