Most polluted place on Earth
Wikus de Wet/AFP

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The most polluted place on Earth is right here in South Africa

The most polluted place on Earth is in South Africa, just a short distance outside of Johannesburg, threatening the health of millions.

Most polluted place on Earth
Wikus de Wet/AFP

Unbeknownst to many, South Africa is home to the most polluted place on Earth. Millions of citizens are at risk in terms of serious health issues.


The region known as the Vaal Triangle, just 50 kilometres from Johannesburg, is an area causing significant health risks for local people. It is home to around 1.7 million people inhaling some of the most dangerous pollution on Earth, according to Bloomberg. Toxins are causing hundreds of premature deaths every year across the Vaal Triangle and for many of those still breathing, it is causing respiratory disease. In 2019 alone, around 5 300 people in Johannesburg died prematurely as a result of air pollution, according to Daily Maverick.

South Africa’s status as the most industrialised nation on the continent is mostly due to Vereeniging’s industries. It is one of South Africa’s most important industrial manufacturing centres, producing iron, steel, pipes, bricks, tiles, and processed lime. Today, it has a reputation for being the most polluted place on Earth. Eskom’s Lethabo power station and several coal mines are also located nearby.


Africa’s biggest steel mill is covered by a heavy veil of smoke that you can see from the highway into Vanderbijlpark.

To the southeast, near the town of Vereeniging, the Lethabo coal power plant emits ash and toxic sulfur dioxide into the air.

Moving further south, there is a regular stench from hydrogen sulfide in the air. This is just outside a petrochemicals plant in Sasolburg.

Even though these plants offer many people employment, they are pumping out harmful emissions at very high levels. Vereeniging is by some measures the most polluted city in the world, according to Bloomberg.


In the Vaal Triangle, industrial plants emit microscopic emissions often made up of invisible particulates. These particulates travel deep into people’s (and animals’) lungs and often lead to cancer and cardiac problems. The emissions often include heavy metals and other toxins that are extremely harmful.

The fine particulates are associated with various health problems, including heart disease, lung disease, infertility, birth defects, and other pregnancy complications.

As the government pushes for stricter regulations, the industries resist change. One of the main reasons for the resistance is the the challenge of transitioning to greener practices without sacrificing jobs, according to BizNews. The residents of this polluted area are demanding compensation for the health toll caused by their industrial surroundings.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is one of the biggest environmental risks to health.