On Wednesday, the World Health Organization tightened its air quality guidelines, stating that air pollution is now one of the most serious environmental hazards to human health, causing seven million premature deaths each year.
It stated that immediate action was required to decrease exposure to air pollution, putting its disease burden on par with smoking and bad eating.
“The World Health Organization has changed almost all of the air quality guideline thresholds downward, warning that exceeding the new… levels are associated with serious health risks,” it stated.”Abiding by them has the potential to save millions of lives.”
The guidelines aim to safeguard individuals from the harmful impacts of air pollution and are used as a reference for legally enforceable requirements by governments. The United Nations Health Organization last issued air quality guidelines, or AQGs, in 2005, which had a considerable impact on pollution abatement strategies around the world.
However, the WHO stated that in the 16 years afterward, a far stronger body of evidence has developed, demonstrating how air pollution affects health at much lower concentrations than previously recognized.
“The combined data is sufficient to justify steps to limit population exposure to important air pollutants on a worldwide basis, not simply in specific nations or regions,” the organization stated.
Southeast Asia has been impacted hard
The new standards are being released just in time for the COP26 global climate summit, which will be held in Glasgow from October 31 to November 12.
According to the WHO, air pollution, along with climate change, is one of the most serious environmental hazards to human health. It was stated that improving air quality will benefit climate change mitigation efforts and vice versa. The WHO’s revised standards recommend ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and carbon monoxide levels for six contaminants.
The other two are PM10 and PM2.5, which are particles with diameters of 10 and 2.5 microns, respectively. Both are capable of penetrating deep into the lungs, but studies indicate that PM2.5 can even enter the bloodstream, causing cardiovascular and respiratory difficulties as well as impacting other organs, according to the WHO. As a result, the PM2.5 guideline level has been cut in half.
In 2019, more than 90% of the world’s population resided in places where long-term PM2.5 concentrations exceeded the 2005 AQG. Southeast Asia has been hit the worst.
“Air pollution is a threat to health in all countries, but it hits people in low- and middle-income countries the hardest,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
According to the WHO, while air quality in high-income nations has significantly improved since the 1990s, the worldwide toll in deaths and lost years of healthy life has barely decreased, as air quality has usually deteriorated in most other countries at pace with their economic development. In children, this could include decreased lung growth and function, respiratory infections, and exacerbation of asthma. The most prevalent causes of early death in adults due to outdoor air pollution are ischemic heart disease (also known as coronary heart disease) and stroke.
According to the organization, evidence of other impacts such as diabetes and neurological disorders is now developing. According to the WHO, the burden of disease caused by air pollution is “on par with other major global health concerns such as improper nutrition and tobacco smoking.”