Only 2 Swiss towns meet WHO targets on air pollution, study finds

Only 2 Swiss towns meet WHO targets on air pollution, study finds

The latest air quality report from IQAir has revealed that while air pollution across Switzerland remains good in comparison to other parts of the world, all Swiss cities fail to meet World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations. 10 of the 60 locations analysed in the alpine nation had air quality scores between two and three times above the WHO target.

IQAir air quality study

To create the ranking, IQAir looked at air quality data from 134 countries and territories worldwide, alongside 7.812 different cities and towns. Specifically, concentration readings of PM 2,5 were used to place each location on the list.

PM 2,5 refers to particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2,5 micrometres. These microbes are usually emitted by car exhausts, industrial emissions and other combustion processes. Due to their small size, PM 2,5 particles are more dangerous for humans than other forms of pollution as they are less likely to be recognised by the body as a threat.

Prolonged breathing of PM 2,5 pollution can severely impact people’s health, leading to respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease and even cancer. Most prominently, living in high-pollution areas has been linked to asthma and other lung problems.

Best and worst parts of the world for air quality

When it comes to PM 2,5, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends an annual average limit of five microgrammes per cubic metre (µg/m3). The study found that in 2023, only 10 countries and territories were under this limit. These were (in µg/m3):

  1. French Polynesia (3,2)
  2. Mauritius (3,5)
  3. Iceland (4)
  4. Grenada (4,1)
  5. Bermuda (4,1)
  6. New Zealand (4,3)
  7. Australia (4,5)
  8. Puerto Rico (4,5)
  9. Estonia (4,7)
  10. Finland (4,7)

By contrast, the three countries with the worst air pollution in the world in 2023 were Bangladesh (79,9), Pakistan (73,7) and India (54,4). In all three countries, average PM 2,5 levels were more than 10 times higher than the WHO recommendation. 

What’s more, of the 10 most polluted cities in the world, all but one were in India. Begusarai, Guwahati, Delhi, Mullanpur and Lahore (Pakistan) rounded out the worst five, with Begusarai reporting average PM 2,5 levels of 118,9 µg/m3 in 2023. By contrast, the Finish communities of Kuusamo (0,3 µg/m3), Utsjoki (0,3) and Sodankylae (0,3) were rated best.

Air pollution in Switzerland: Good but can still improve

While Switzerland has low levels of air pollution compared to the rest of the world, placing 30th best just ahead of Germany, tied with Luxembourg and behind the Netherlands, average PM 2,5 levels still came in at 8,9 µg/m3, 3,9 µg/m3 higher than the WHO recommendation. 

Air pollution levels have come down in Switzerland in recent years, having risen to 10,8 µg/m3 in 2021. The weather seems to have a big impact, with pollution levels in Switzerland tending to peak in winter, before declining rapidly as conditions warm.

Only two Swiss towns achieve WHO air pollution targets

In 2023, the area of Switzerland with the worst air pollution was Liestal, Basel-Land with 14,9 µg/m3 - nearly three times higher than the WHO recommendation. Chiasso (14,6), Euthal (14,3), Mendriso (13,9) and Bioggio (11,7) rounded out the worst five.

Interestingly, only two Swiss communities were found to have air pollution levels in line with the WHO recommendations. These were Küssnacht, Canton Schwyz and Neuchâtel. The best-rated large city in Switzerland was St. Gallen with a PM 2,5 reading of 6 µg/m3. 

Which parts of Switzerland have the best and worst air quality?

In all, here are the 10 Swiss communities with the worst air quality, in 2023 (in µg/m3 of PM 2,5):

  1. Liestal, Basel-Land (14,9)
  2. Chiasso, Ticino (14,6)
  3. Euthal, Schwyz (14,3)
  4. Mendriso, Ticino (13,9)
  5. Bioggio, Ticino (11,7)
  6. Rotkreuz, Zug (11,5)
  7. La Sarraz, Vaud (10,9)
  8. Locarno, Ticino (10,4)
  9. Pregassona, Ticino (10,3)
  10. Écublens, Vaud (103,3)

By contrast, here are the 10 Swiss towns with the best air quality:

  1. Neuchâtel (4,4)
  2. Küssnacht, Schwyz (4,8)
  3. Beromünster, Lucerne (5,5)
  4. Airolo, Ticino (5,7)
  5. St. Gallen (6)
  6. Rheineck, St. Gallen (6,3)
  7. Lens, Valais (6,5)
  8. Pont-la-Ville, Fribourg (6,7)
  9. Payerne, Vaud (6,8)
  10. Kloten, Zurich (7,5)

For more information about the study, check out the IQAir website.

Thumb image credit: Paolo Bona /

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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