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Columbus is the most polluted major city in the entire country, says new report

Columbus is the most polluted major city in the entire country, says new report

Sav McKee

Last year’s summer in Columbus started out on the more hazy side, with wildfire smoke covering our normal bright blue, June skies in a blanket of gray ash. Months before that, in February of 2023, dozens of hazardous chemicals spilled and caught fire in East Palestine, Ohio, after 38 train cars carrying vinyl chloride careened off the tracks.

CNN reported on data from IQAir which tracks air quality worldwide, and for the second year in a row, Columbus was ranked as the “most polluted major city in the U.S.”

The Swiss tech company monitors fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, which is the tiniest pollutant, but also the most dangerous. “When inhaled, PM2.5 travels deep into lung tissue where it can enter the bloodstream. It comes from sources like the combustion of fossil fuels, dust storms and wildfires, and has been linked to asthma, heart and lung disease, cancer, and other respiratory illnesses, as well as cognitive impairment in children,” said CNN.


Columbus’ fine particulate matter (the PM2.5 mentioned above) was measured at 13.9, 2-3x more than the World Health’s Organization’s annual guidelines. Notably, Grove City had even more air pollution than Columbus, measured at 14.3, but it’s not considered a “major” city.

“Columbus’ worst air pollution rating comes from ozone pollution,” IQAir explained. “Columbus ozone received an ‘F’ rating from the 2019 ‘State of the Air’ report. The ozone pollution season coincides with summer, running from March through October. Hot, sunny conditions are required for ozone formation, which is created when precursor pollutants, nitrogen oxides (NO2) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), cook in sunlight.”

CNN emphasized that the United States was terribly affected by last year’s Canadian wildfires, which billowed smoke all the way to U.S. cities, where their annual pollution averages rose 30% to 50% in cities like Detroit and Minneapolis.

Surprisingly, major cities like Portland, Seattle and Los Angeles experienced significant drops in annual average pollution levels, the report said.

The top 5 most polluted countries in 2023 were Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Tajikastan, and Burkina Faso. The most polluted global cities include Begusarai, a city of half a million people in northern India’s Bihar state, with an average annual PM2.5 concentration of 118.9 — 23 times the WHO guidelines. It was followed in the IQAir rankings by the Indian cities of Guwahati, Assam, Delhi, and Mullanpur, Punjab.

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