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by Allen J. Sheinman | March 09, 2012

Last year we highlighted the most polluted cities in the United States; now we go, gas mask and all, overseas.

Kanpur, India
Don't expect the Michigan Asthma Society to meet anytime soon in this Indian city in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, thanks to a soupy atmosphere redolent with the byproducts of the thriving chemical and leather industries that have developed here over the years. There are so many tanneries in the area that residents are said to gargle with Scotchgard™ to keep their esophagi supple.

Gaborone, Botswana

One of the most rapidly growing cities in Africa, Botswana's capital presents a tidy appearance -- if you can see through the exhaust from the dilapidated second-hand automobiles that clog the streets and the thick smoke wafting over from brush fires perennially breaking out in the surrounding parched grasslands. A favorite local joke is: "Knock knock." "Who's there?" "Emma." "Emma who?" "Emma coughing up a lung."

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
With Mongolia ranking as the most polluted country on earth by Business Insider, it stands to reason its capital city would be considered absolutely breathtaking -- in a bad way. With major local industries like textiles and cement spewing all manner of blasphemy into the "air," you might well prefer to seek relief by going down into one of the nearby zinc mines.

Rome
Yes, even this storied destination has its pollution problems, coming in dead last in a recent ranking of 17 major European capitals compiled by a consortium of agencies under the umbrella name of Soot-Free Cities. The report cited the city's meager efforts at emission control, lack of economic incentive to initiate clean-air practices, and lackluster promotion of walking and cycling among offending factors. No wonder so many of the landmarks here are in ruins.

Ahvaz, Iran
Savvy incentive program managers send their winners to Ahvaz, with the incentive being to leave town as soon as possible. This oil-producing city is one of the least breathable in the world, thanks to a reported average rate of 372 micrograms (of crud) per cubic meter of air (by comparison, Los Angeles, no slouch in the smog department, clocks in at just 25 micrograms). "Going mobile" here means outfitting your iron lung with wheels.

Sources: Meetings & Conventions; Business Insider (businessinsider.com); Soot-Free Cities (sootfreecities.cu/city); Weirdly Odd (weirdlyodd.com)