News Desk , United States, 10/15/2021 / Top Wire News /
WHO’s new Global Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs) provide clear evidence of the damage that air pollution inflicts on human health even at lower concentrations than previously understood. These guidelines recommend new air quality levels to protect the health of populations, by reducing levels of some of the key air pollutants, some of which also contribute to climate change.
There has been a remarkable increase in evidence that shows how air pollution affects different aspects of health since WHO’s last 2005 update. For this reason, and after a systematic review of all the accumulated evidence, WHO has adjusted all the AQGs downwards, while warning that exceeding the new air quality guidance is associated with significant risks to the health. While at the same time, adhering to these revised air quality guidelines could potentially save millions of lives.
Exposure to air pollution is estimated to cause 7 million premature deaths each year, and also results in the loss of millions of healthy years of life among populations. While in children, this could include reduced lung growth and function, aggravated asthma, and respiratory functions. In adults, on the other hand, this ischemic heart disease and stroke are the most common causes of premature death caused by outdoor air pollution. There is also emerging evidence that suggests that outdoor air pollution can also be a cause of diabetes and neurodegenerative conditions. This new evidence puts the number of diseases attributable to air pollution on par with other major global health risks such as tobacco smoking, and an unhealthy diet.
Air pollution is among the biggest environmental threats to human health along with climate change. Improving air quality can also enhance climate change mitigation efforts while reducing emissions will in turn improve air quality. By striving to achieve these guideline levels, countries can both protect health as well as mitigate climate change at the same time.
WHO’s new guidelines recommend air quality levels for 6 major pollutants, particulate matter (PM), ozone (O₃), nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) sulfur dioxide (SO₂), and carbon monoxide (CO) namely. When action is taken on these classical pollutants, it also impacts other damaging pollutants.
The health risks associated with particulate matter, particularly those equal to or smaller than 10 or 2.5 microns are of particular relevance to public health. Both PM2.5 and PM10 are capable of penetrating the lungs, but PM2.5 can also enter the bloodstream, resulting in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and can also affect other organs. Particulate matter is primarily generated by fuel combustion in different sectors such as transport, households, agriculture, energy, and industry.
WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified particulate matter and outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic in 2013. The newly released guidelines also highlight good management practices for particulate matter such as black carbon/elemental carbon, particles originating from sand or dust storms, and ultrafine particles. The guidelines are applicable for both outdoor and indoor environments globally and cover all settings.