WHO warns pollution kills as it tightens air quality guidelines

The World Health Organization (WHO) has tightened its air quality guidelines for the first time since 2005, warning that air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats to human health, causing seven million premature deaths a year.


The United Nations health agency said on Wednesday that urgent action was needed to reduce exposure to air pollution, ranking its burden of disease “on a par with other major global health risks such as unhealthy diet and tobacco smoking”.

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


The new guidelines aim to protect people from the adverse effects of air pollution and are used by governments as a reference for legally binding standards.

The WHO last updated the guidelines in 2005, which had a significant impact on policies to clean up the world’s air.


But the UN health agency said that in the 16 years since, a much stronger body of evidence had emerged, showing how air pollution affects health at lower concentrations than previously understood.


“The accumulated evidence is sufficient to justify actions to reduce population exposure to key air pollutants, not only in particular countries or regions but on a global scale,” the organisation said.


Greenpeace noted that many major cities around the world were already in breach of the 2005 guidelines and said more meaningful action was urgently required.


“What matters most is whether governments implement impactful policies to reduce pollutant emissions, such as ending investments in coal, oil and gas and prioritizing the transition to clean energy. The failure to meet the outgoing WHO guidelines must not be repeated,” Aidan Farrow, a Greenpeace International Air Pollution Scientist based at the University of Exeter in the UK, said in a statement.



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