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.
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