GENEVA: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday released its first air quality guidelines since 2005 aimed at reducing deaths from major pollutants that cause cardiovascular and respiratory disease.
The United Nations agency, in a notice to its 194 member states, has reduced recommended maximum levels for several pollutants, including particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, both found in fossil fuel emissions.
âAir pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats to human health, along with climate change,â he said.
The WHO cited “clear evidence” of the damage inflicted by air pollution to human health “at even lower concentrations than previously believed”.
âThe WHO has adjusted downward almost all levels of the air quality guidelines, warning that exceeding new levels of the air quality guidelines is associated with significant health risks. at the same time, however, respecting them could save millions of lives, âhe said. .
Long-term exposure to even lower concentrations of ambient and household air pollution can cause diseases such as lung cancer, heart disease and stroke, resulting in an estimated 7 million premature deaths each year, according to the WHO.
“This puts the burden of disease from air pollution on a par with other major global health risks such as unhealthy diets and smoking,” he said.
People living in low- and middle-income countries are the hardest hit due to urbanization and economic development heavily reliant on the burning of fossil fuels, he said.
Reducing exposure to particulate matter (PM) – able to penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream – is a priority, the WHO said. These are mainly generated by the combustion of fuels in sectors such as transport, energy, households, industry and agriculture.
Under the new guidelines, the WHO halved the recommended limit for the average annual level of PM2.5 from 10 micrograms per cubic meter to 5. It also lowered the recommended limit for PM10 from 20 micrograms to 15.
“Almost 80% of PM2.5-related deaths could be prevented globally if current levels of air pollution were reduced to those proposed in the updated directive,” he said, referring to particles 2.5 microns in diameter.
“What matters most is whether governments implement effective policies to reduce pollutant emissions, such as ending investments in coal, oil and gas and prioritizing the transition to clean energy, âsaid Dr Aidan Farrow, a Greenpeace international air pollution scientist based at the UK University of Exeter.
“Failure to adhere to outgoing WHO guidelines should not be repeated,” he said in a statement.