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WHO announces tougher air quality guidelines

The World Health Organization (WHO) has tightened its air quality guidelines for the first time since 2005, with the aim of saving millions of lives.

The new guidelines provide clear evidence of the damage air pollution inflicts on human health, at even lower concentrations than previously understood.

WHO has adjusted almost all the air quality guidelines downwards, warning that exceeding the new levels is associated with significant risk to health.

Every year, air pollution exposure is estimated to cause 7 million premature deaths and result in the loss of millions more healthy years of life.

city with high-rise building covered with fogs

In a press conference today, WHO director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: ‘There is nothing more essential for life than air, and yet because of air pollution, the simple act of breathing contributes to seven million deaths a year. Almost everyone around the world is exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution; inhaling dirty air increases the risk of respiratory diseases like pneumonia, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and increases the risks of severe Covid-19. It’s also a major cause of other non-communicable diseases like heart disease, stroke and cancers.

‘Air pollution is a health threat in all countries, but especially for vulnerable groups in low- and middle-income countries, with poor air quality due to urbanisation and rapid economic development, and air pollution in the home caused by cooking, heating and lighting. Today we are proud to launch the updated Global Air Quality Guidelines, which provide clear evidence of the damage air pollution inflicts on human health.’

In a press release, he added: ‘WHO’s new Air Quality Guidelines are an evidence-based and practical tool for improving the quality of the air on which all life depends. I urge all countries and all those fighting to protect our environment to put them to use to reduce suffering and save lives.’

WHO’s new guidelines recommend air quality levels of six pollutants, including particulate matter (PM), ozone (O?), nitrogen dioxide (NO?), sulfur dioxide (SO?), carbon monoxide (CO).

The guidelines also highlight good practices for the management of certain types of particulate matter, such as black carbon, ultrafine particles and particles from sand and dust storms, for which there is currently insufficient quantitative evidence to set air quality guideline levels.

Photo by Kristen Morith

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peter murtagh
peter murtagh
1 month ago

It’s all well and good setting emission levels. It falls down when there is no enforcement. I live in a supposedly urban smoke controlled zone. Yet when I seek help from my local authority,re a neighbour who constantly burns wet logs from both a firepit and a stove, I get blanked.The Environmental Health officer who attended this incident (in the photo) actually said that he could “see no smoke coming from the flume, or perhaps very little, a few whispy white puffs”; his actual words. He also said that any smoke was blowing away from our property, (incorrect) not towards it, therefor not pollution. It’s the same with car idling.

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Max Brown
Max Brown
1 month ago
Reply to  peter murtagh

Wood smoke is an absolute nightmare and I totally sympathize with you.
In Norway all woodburner have by law to be fitted with electrostatic particulate filters. This is a simple device that fits on top of the chimney and eliminates 95% of harmful particles. They can be retrofitted to ALL stoves.
I have written to the UK and Scottish govts suggesting that they become law here too and been totally sidelined and ignored.

Peter Murtagh
Peter Murtagh
1 month ago
Reply to  Max Brown

Thanks for your support Max. I have also raised this with my MSP and received the cold shouldered. Three years of hell. My local authority officer even told me that I had no legal right to sit in my garden, so go inside and shut the doors and windows. Denied this of course. Also stated that the burner was in a hut not a dwelling so exempt from Clean Air regulations. Legal proceedings underway.

Stephanie Trotter, OBE

What are the new limits? This article doesn’t specify them!

Peter Murtagh
Peter Murtagh
25 days ago

Good morning Stephanie . I see that you have found the new limits. And yet I despair. What is the point of the limits if there is no enforcement ? I have been asking my local authority for several years now to enforce the smoke free zone which I live in. The head of the Environmental Services enforcement team has told me that none of his team has received any training in air pollution before being appointed ES officers. That they have undergone no training since appointment, no evaluation, no monitoring or annual performance review, have no training in or access to any equipment ( not even a torch, so pointless calling them out in the evening as they have to ‘see’ or witness the source, and it’s at the discretion of the officer attending. I even had an officer tell me that he loved the smell of a wood burner and couldn’t wait to install one, and whay did I have a problem with them . He denied saying this, of course, even though my partner was present. Apparently, my partner doesn’t count as a witness , but his colleague does. Until e have professional officers delivering a professional service then the problem will continue.