WHO updates Air Quality Guidelines

The WHO determined that air pollution inflicts on human health at even lower concentrations than previously understood.

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Image Credit: Deccan Herald

Labeling it as one of the biggest environmental threats to human health, the World Health Organization recently announced updated Air Quality Guidelines to better protect the health of populations. The new global Air Quality Guidelines (AGQs) will reduce levels of key air pollutants, some of which also contribute to climate change.

The WHO determined that air pollution inflicts on human health at even lower concentrations than previously understood. Since its last global update in 2005, “there has been a marked increase of evidence that shows how air pollution affects different aspects of health,” according to the WHO. Therefore, the WHO adjusted almost all the AQGs levels downwards.

“Air pollution is a threat to health in all countries, but it hits people in low- and middle-income countries the hardest,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said. “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.”

The updated guideline recommend air quality levels for 6 pollutants; particulate matter (PM), ozone (O₃), nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) sulfur dioxide (SO₂) and carbon monoxide (CO), it also has an impact on other damaging pollutants.

According to the WHO, “with particulate matter equal or smaller than 10 and 2.5 microns (µm) in diameter (PM₁₀ and PM₂.₅, respectively) are of particular public health relevance. Both PM₂.₅ and PM₁₀ are capable of penetrating deep into the lungs but PM₂.₅ can even enter the bloodstream, primarily resulting in cardiovascular and respiratory impacts, and also affecting other organs. PM is primarily generated by fuel combustion in different sectors, including transport, energy, households, industry, and from agriculture. In 2013, outdoor air pollution and particulate matter were classified as carcinogenic by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).”

Based on rapid scenario analysis performed by WHO, close to 80% of deaths related to PM₂.₅ could be avoided in the world if the current air pollution levels were reduced to those proposed in the updated guideline. Therefore, the goal of the guideline is for countries to hit proposed interim target set by the WHO in order to ultimately achieve recommended air quality levels to better protect the health for the population.

“Annually, WHO estimates that millions of deaths are caused by the effects of air pollution, mainly from noncommunicable diseases,” Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said. “Clean air should be a fundamental human right and a necessary condition for healthy and productive societies. We know the magnitude of the problem and we know how to solve it. These updated guidelines give policy-makers solid evidence and the necessary tool to tackle this long-term health burden.”

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