The WHO has released new Global Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs) which reveals evidence of damages air pollution has on human health even at lower concentrations.
The aim of these guidelines is to recommend new air quality levels for countries to adhere to in order to protect the health of their population.
According to the health organization, this can be achieved by reducing levels of key air pollutants, some of which also contribute to climate change.
The cumulated evidence revealed that yearly exposure to air pollution is responsible for 7 million premature deaths and also the loss of healthy years of life.
The impact of air pollution in children, according to evidence, could range from reduced lung growth and function, respiratory infections to aggravated asthma.
In adults, however, air pollution could result in grave and life-threatening health conditions such as ischaemic heart disease and stroke.
In addition, emerging evidence has revealed other effects of air pollution such as diabetes and neurodegenerative conditions. This means that diseases caused by air pollution are on the same level with other major global health risks such as unhealthy diet and tobacco smoking.
The World Health Organization has said that air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats to human health as well as climate change, hence, concerted efforts towards improving the air quality can enhance climate change mitigation efforts and reducing emissions will in turn improve air quality.
Air quality levels for 6 pollutants were recommended in the new guideline, where sufficient evidence has revealed adequate information on health effects from exposure. As stated in the guidelines, when action is taken on these so-called classical pollutants, namely, particulate matter (PM)- [PM₁₀ and PM₂.₅], ozone (O₃), nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) sulfur dioxide (SO₂) and carbon monoxide (CO), it would have an impact on other damaging pollutants.
The WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, commented saying, “Air pollution is a threat to health in all countries, but it hits people in low- and middle-income countries the hardest. 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 organization maintains that the ultimate goal of the guideline is for all countries to achieve recommended air quality levels and while being conscious of the fact that this might not be a walk-in-the park for many countries struggling with high levels of air pollution, the WHO has proposed interim targets to ensure and encourage step by step improvement in air quality and subsequently achieve meaningful health benefits for the population.