Is Milan really the world's third most polluted city?

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
Is Milan really the world's third most polluted city?
Smog has reportedly reached particularly high levels in Milan amid unusually mild winter temperatures and a lack of rainfall. (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP)

Italian media on Monday cited data which showed Milan was among the most polluted major cities in the world, alongside Delhi, Lahore, and Chengdu - but the city’s mayor was quick to dismiss the findings.


It’s no secret that northern Italy has a problem with air pollution. Over the years, study after study has shown that Milan's residents breathe some of the poorest-quality air in western Europe.

But could the Lombardy capital really be among the most polluted cities in the world?

News reports making this claim on Monday were based on data from the Swiss website IQAir, which had shown the concentration of PM2.5 fine particles in the city’s air over the weekend was around 13.8 times higher than the World Health Organisation’s recommended limit, making it the world’s third or fourth most polluted city.

Things got even worse on Monday, when the website’s real-time smog rankings placed the city in second place, with only Chengdu, China, faring worse.

The site uses the AQI (Air Quality Index) indicator, allocating Milan a pollution index of 158 on Sunday, which had risen to 179 on Monday afternoon.

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Milan’s air quality was reported to be particularly bad at the moment following weeks of unusually dry and warm weather.

A lack of rainfall had reportedly worsened smog across the Po Valley area of northern Italy, as well as raising alarm about a heightened drought risk in the area for the coming year.

But despite this, Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala dismissed the findings on Monday, telling a journalist, “these are the usual impromptu analyses, managed by a private body.”

He suggested the journalist was reporting news “from social media” and insisted that his city council had acted to improve air quality.


"We have not worked miracles, none of us, neither the Lombardy Region nor Milan," said Sala. "Nevertheless, we are trying to do something."

Some Italian newspapers also cast doubt on the findings, with La Stampa pointing out that there were several flaws with the Swiss ranking, including the fact that it only included the world’s biggest cities and not, for example, the neighbouring, smaller city of Turin, where pollution levels can sometimes exceed those in Milan.

READ ALSO: Why is air pollution in northern Italy so bad?

While it’s hard to say whether Milan really is the second, third, or even in the top 50 most polluted major cities worldwide, there’s little doubt that it’s among the most polluted cities in Italy, and that northern Italy has some of the most polluted air in the European Union.

A 2023 report from Italian environment watchdog Legambiente found that, of the ten worst cities for PM10 (coarse particulate) pollution, nine were in the Po Valley, with Turin, Milan and Cremona topping the chart.


The Po Valley was also found to be the worst area in western Europe and among the worst on the continent for air pollution in a 2023 study by Utrecht University and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute.

Legambiente has urged regional and local authorities to better regulate the transport, agriculture and heating sectors to reduce pollution and protect public health in the densely-populated and industrial Po Valley area.

Italy has repeatedly been reprimanded by the European Union over air quality, and has “persistently and systematically” breached EU recommended limits, the European Court of Justice ruled in 2020.


Comments (2)

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GB 2024/02/20 10:03
I can quite agree with this, I am out near the Malpensa airport and the air is shockingly bad most every day. They really need to do something about this.
Marcia 2024/02/19 19:16
This has to be a joke. Milan is very well organized and clean. They don't buy into the "climate change" nonsense and poltical stance, so they get dinged in a liberal, nutty "assessment."

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