Air quality in Sri Lanka

Air quality index (AQI) and PM2.5 air pollution in Sri Lanka

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Real-time Sri Lanka
Most polluted city ranking

#cityUS AQI
1 Colombo, Western


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Real-time Sri Lanka
Cleanest city ranking

#cityUS AQI
1 Colombo, Western


(local time)


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Unhealthy for sensitive groups
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How polluted is Sri Lanka?

The national flag of International

2022 Air quality average

Human face indicating AQI level


2022 average US AQI





2022 average PM2.5 concentration in Sri Lanka: 4.1 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value

2022  Sri Lanka cleanest city Nuwara Eliya , Central


2022  Sri Lanka most polluted city Gampaha , Western



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2022 aqi country ranking

How does Sri Lanka rank globally in air pollution?

46/ 131 countries ranked in 2022

Which country had the worst air quality in 2022?

1The national flag of InternationalChad17,179,740


2The national flag of InternationalIraq43,533,592


3The national flag of InternationalPakistan231,402,117


4The national flag of InternationalBahrain1,463,265


5The national flag of InternationalBangladesh169,356,251


6The national flag of InternationalBurkina Faso22,100,683


7The national flag of InternationalKuwait4,250,114


8The national flag of InternationalIndia1,407,563,842


9The national flag of InternationalEgypt109,262,178


10The national flag of InternationalTajikistan9,750,064


46The national flag of InternationalSri Lanka22,156,000



How to best protect from air pollution?

Reduce your air pollution exposure in Sri Lanka


What is the air quality forecast for Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka is officially known as the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka andwas formerly known as Ceylon when it was under British rule. It is an islandcountry in the Indian Ocean of the south-eastern coast of India. Colombo is itslargest city and commercial centre. In 2019 the population was estimated as being almost 22 million people.

According to the data present on IQAir, Sri Lanka presented with a “Moderate” figure for aircleanliness in 2019, with a US AQI figure of 78. The average annualconcentration of the pollutant PM2.5 was 25.2 µg/m³. This is according to suggestions from theWorld Health Organisation (WHO). For the month of August, the quality wasrecorded as being “Good” with a number between 10 and 12 µg/m³. For January,February and March. The figure was “Unhealthy for sensitive groups” withfigures between 35.5 and 55.4 µg/m³. For the remaining months, the figures were “Moderate” with measurements between 12.1 and 35.4 µg/m³.

The average figure for 2019 of 25.2 µg/m³ was an improvement on the previous yearof 32 µg/m³. On a global scale, Sri Lanka was ranked as the 25th dirtiest country out of a total of 98.

How bad is air pollution in Sri Lanka?

According to the recently released data, air pollution has increased in most parts of thecountry except in the south, including Colombo, Kandy, Puttalam, Vavuniya andJaffna. As the impact of COVID 19 increased in Sri Lanka, various restrictionswere imposed there. As a result, environmentalists say the current rise in airpollution is a cause for concern, although the rate of air pollution shouldhave been reduced as traffic has decreased. The report said that air pollutionwithin the country may have increased due to the prevailing windy weather inthe areas surrounding Sri Lanka. It is also said that due to high levels of airpollution in India, there is a possibility of air pollution in the border areas of Sri Lanka.

What are the main causes of air pollution in Sri Lanka?

Air quality in Sri Lanka is affected by vehicle emissions, organic waste burning,by-products from the agricultural industry, and petroleum refining. Availabledata indicates that Colombo often experiences high levels of air pollution.

As with many Asian countries, vehicle emissions are problematic because most ofthe vehicles are old and do not pass current regulations on emission control.Even though there is a public transport system, most people like theindependence of using their own vehicle for the daily commute. There is also a1500 kilometre rail system and three deep-water ports on the island. A fourth one has been built at Hambantota.

What can be done to improve air quality in Sri Lanka?

Air pollution from both indoor and outdoor sources is a major environmental healthproblem which affects millions of people worldwide, in both developed anddeveloping countries. Although there are many chemicals and other substancessuspended in the air, it is the microscopic particulate matter known as PM2.5which is the most dangerous. Other substances used as a point of reference are: ground-level ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur oxides (SOx),nitrogen oxides (NOx) and lead (Pb). These are the ambientpollutants which are found outside. Indoor pollutants can be slightly differentand include: environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), formaldehyde and polycyclic organic matter.

Which city in Sri Lanka had the lowest levels of air pollution?

According to figures released from 2019, the cleanest city in Sri Lanka was Kandy whichis located in the central highlands. It lies amongst the hills of the Kandyplateau which are mainly covered by tea bushes as Kandy is the main tea growingarea in Sri Lanka. The average 2019 reading was 69 US AQI as opposed to Colombowhich had the worst figures of 78 US AQI, so you can see, there is not a big difference between the two cities.

There is a public transport system here which relies mainly on buses. The mainterminus is located next to the railway, thus making it very convenient foronward journeys. The Kandy Multimodal Transport Terminal handles around 2,000bus departures per day and a further 3,000 as they pass through en route toother places. It is estimated that accounts for almost 320,000 on a daily basis.

What does the future hold with regards to air quality in Sri Lanka?

Some key steps have been taken by the government. The National Policy on Urban AirQuality Management was inaugurated in 2000. Leaded gasoline was prohibited inJune 2002, the introduction of low-sulphur diesel was introduced in January2003 and 2008 saw the complete ban on the importation of two-strokeThree-Wheelers. A vehicle emission testing centre was also established in 2008.

The permissible ambient air quality levels for selected air pollutants were for thefirst time enacted under the National Environmental (Ambient Air Quality)Regulations of 1994. With the publication of World Health Organisations (WHO)air quality guidelines in 2005, air quality standards for Sri Lanka, includingstandards for PM10 and PM2.5, were amended and brought into force in August 2008.

Despite many requests, Colombo still only has 1 ground-level monitoring station,located at the fort. Based on data from this station, the average annualambient PM10 levels in Colombo have remained relatively stable over the yearsranging from 72 to 82 µg/m³. The WHO recommends that this figure should be lessthan 20 µg/m³. From 2003 to 2005 it was decided to compare levels of pollutionin Sri Lanka to levels found elsewhere in other Asian countries in a similarsituation to Colombo. The results showed that Colombo is unhealthier thancities such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Taipei and Tokyo.

Very high levels of pollutants were found during the northeast monsoon period whichcan last from November to January. Carbon monoxide and ozone were found to berelatively low when compared to other pollutants. Many criticisms have beenvoiced about the accuracy of the data because of the location of the fort. Itis only 800 metres from the ocean and as such “loses” some of the airborneparticles due to the prevailing winds. It is felt that a more accurate figurecould be achieved by establishing a few more monitoring stations or even movingthe current one to a more suitable position. Newly established factories havebeen built together with power plants but these are several kilometres away and therefore do not get measured.

How bad is the indoor air quality in Sri Lanka?

Indoor exposure is a result of composite interactions between the structure of thebuilding systems, indoor source strength, removal and deposition rate withinthe structure, indoor mixing and chemical reactions between the chemicals,furnishings, the outdoor environment, and the practices and the behaviours ofthe inhabitants. If windows and doors are closed, they will remain trappedinside with no way of escaping. Sri Lanka is classed as a tropical country and,as such, would have been thought to have a good ventilation system. However,looking at what figures are available, it is seen that indoor air quality can often be worse than the outdoor air.

Cooking fuel is the main source of indoor pollution because the fuel is cheap andmostly is readily available. Tobacco smoke and smoke from other sources allcome together to form a toxic environment. According to research figures,firewood is used by up to 79 per cent of households and it is thought unlikelyto change in the foreseeable future. Most traditional stoves use firewood astheir main source of energy which does not combust completely resulting in veryhigh levels of pollutants issuing into the atmosphere. Measurements are takenat random found figures exceeding 1200 µg/m³ in many households. Possibly theworst group of people affected by this is women and children who tend to “stick”with mum whilst she is cooking. A cross-sectional study conducted to measure sulphurdioxide (SO2) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels indoorsand outdoors of 30 households at five different locations in Colombo reportedthat indoor pollutant levels in these low income houses were higher than those outdoors in all cases.

In this study, parents kept a daily activity diary for their 5 to 8 year-oldchildren which showed that these children spent an average of 41 hours (out of 48 hours) inside their homes during weekends.

The regular use of mosquito coils which are used by over 10 per cent of all households adds to the toxic mixture of indoor air.

Even though it is banned in public places, smoking still takes place in privatehomes. Although there has been a reduction in the amount of adults whoregularly smoke, it is estimated that there are still over a third of adults who smoke at home.

What might the effects be of breathing Sri Lanka’s poor quality air?

Air pollution in Colombo was at a moderate level of 26 towards the end of 2020.This moderate level ranges from 12.1 to 35.4 µg/m³. This is predicted to be an almostacceptable level. However, it can cause some health problems for those who areinternally sensitive to air pollution. At the same time, active children andthe elderly, as well as those with respiratory illnesses, especially those withasthma, need to take extra precautions. Wearing a good quality face mask is beneficial and avoiding heavily polluted areas.

The current moderate level of air pollution is expected to continue until the end of the year.

The most dangerous type of pollutant found in the air is PM2.5. So-called becauseof its microscopic size of less than 2.5 microns. Particles of this size caneasily bypass the body’s natural defence mechanism and easily enter the lungswhere they have the ability to travel to the base of the bronchial tubes wherethey eventually lodge in the alveoli. The average adult human has approximately480 million of these tiny sacs. When the body breathes in, they expand to takein the oxygen and when shrink to expel the carbon dioxide. These tinystructures when looked at as one, make up a considerably large surface area. Itis estimated that they would occupy a space of 100 square metres. This largesurface area is necessary to process the huge volumes of air taken in by thebody every minute. The average pair of adult lungs take in between 5 to 8 litres of air per minute.

These tiny sacs are very efficient but can soon become damaged by foreign bodies suchas PM2.5. They also deteriorate due to cigarette smoking, the natural ageing process and air pollution.

What effects does air pollution have on the environment?

Air pollution has a major impact on the process of plant evolution by preventingphotosynthesis through the dusty deposits on their leaves, in many cases, withserious consequences for the purification of the air we breathe. It alsocontributes to the formation of acid rain, atmospheric precipitations in theform of rain, frost, snow or fog, which are released during the combustion offossil fuels and transformed by contact with water and other chemicals in theatmosphere. Air pollution is also a major contributor to global warming andclimate change. The huge amount of carbon dioxide in the air is one of the main causes of greenhouse gases.

The answer to its reduction is the move away from the reliance on fossil fuel andchange over to more eco-friendly ways of producing energy. Think of solarpower, wind power and hydropower. Energy conservation and efficiency also play a key role.

Changing to electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles helps, as does sharing cars withothers. Because of modern GPS technology, it is easier than ever to makecontact with others who are travelling to the place where you need to be.

From the planning stage to the demolition, green buildings can help the air qualityin our cities in many ways. There is even a type of paint available now whichreduces pollution in the air surrounding it. There is also a type of concrete that does a similar thing.

What is happening to the container ship that caught fire off the coast of Sri Lanka?

Towards the end of May 2021, an environmental disaster struck Sri Lanka when a Singaporean-registered container ship, the MV ‘X-Press Pearl’, caught fire and floundered 18 kilometres off the coast of Colombo. The main concern is that of its cargo which was chemicals and raw materials for the cosmetic industry. It was also carrying some 25 tonnes of nitric acid and had 325 tonnes of heavy fuel oil on board. There are almost 1,500 containers on board, many of which are filled with hazardous chemicals.

The fear is that because of the rainy season and the high emittance of nitrogen dioxide, acid rain could pose a problem along the adjoining coastline. Residents are already being warned and advised to avoid becoming wet with the ensuing rain.

The fire has reportedly been brought under control which must be a slight relief as at one time it was feared that she would break in two and sink, thus spewing her toxic cargo into the ocean. As the fire spread to her quarterdeck where the bridge is located, several containers were washed overboard and sank.

Fortunately, all 25 crew members were evacuated with only two needing slight hospital treatment because of leg injuries. Due to COVID-19, they are currently held in quarantine as a precaution.

What pollution can be expected from the stricken container ship off the coast of Sri Lanka?

Because to the fire, many of the ship’s containers ruptured and spewed their content into the sea. The sheen that can be seen on the water surrounding the vessel is due to the plastic that was burnt during the fire. It has been stated that it is not fuel oil. Even though it is in itself a contaminant, it is not such a disaster than if it had been the ship’s fuel leaking.

There has been a complete ban on all fishing activity within the area and a massive clean-up campaign has started along the formerly pristine beaches. Any plastic pieces that are large enough to be handled are being collected from the shoreline. It is the microscopic pieces that are the major concern as they will enter the food chain through the aquatic marine life.

There’s a lot of microplastics in the sea and that some of these microplastics are actually being ingested by the zooplankton that live there. We're also concerned this could end up being passed up through the food chain to food which is destined for human consumption.

Sri Lanka air quality data attribution


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