WHO Says Air Pollution Kills 7 Million A Year, Tightens Guidelines

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The World Health Organization (WHO) revised its air quality guidelines on Wednesday, stating that air pollution is now one of the most serious environmental risks to human health, causing seven million premature deaths each year.

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

This could possibly include reduced lung growth and function, respiratory infections, and asthma in children and in adults, coronary heart disease (stroke), evidence of diabetes and neurodegenerative conditions.

The United Nations’ health agency said that it was necessary to take urgent action to decrease air pollution exposure, bringing the burden of disease equal with other serious global health hazards such as unhealthy diet and smoking.

It said, “WHO has adjusted almost all the air quality guideline levels downwards, warning that exceeding the new… levels is associated with significant risks to health,” adding “Adhering to them could save millions of lives.”

The revised guidelines are intended to protect people from the adverse impacts of air pollution, and they will be used by governments as a reference for legally binding standards.

What are new the new guidelines?

The WHO’s new guidelines recommend air quality levels for six pollutants, including ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and PM10 and PM2.5 (particulate matter equal or smaller than 10 and 2.5 microns in diameter).

PM10 and PM 2.5, as stated by the WHO, can penetrate deep into the lungs, PM2.5 may also enter the bloodstream causing heart disease, respiratory problems and damage to other organs as well, thus, the PM 2.5 guideline threshold has been halved.

According to WHO, 90% of the world’s population reside in areas where concentrations exceeded the 2005 guidelines for long-term PM2.5 exposure.

Air pollution has the greatest impact on people in low-and middle-income nations, acknowledged by WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Southeast Asia was the worst-affected region, with PM 2.5 levels exceeding 17-fold in Delhi, 16-fold in Lahore, 15-fold in Dhaka, and 10-fold in Zhengzhou.

While air quality in high-income countries has improved significantly during the 1990s, the global toll in deaths and lost years of healthy life has barely decreased. As per the WHO, air quality has generally worsened in most other countries, in accordance with their economic development. 

The global health body last released air quality standards in 2005, which had an impact on pollution abatement policies throughout the world. However, it stated that a considerably greater body of evidence has developed in the 16 years, showing how air pollution affects health in lower quantities.

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