Geneva: The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday issued its first air quality guidelines since 2005 aimed at reducing deaths from key pollutants that cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
The United Nations agency, in advice to its 194 member states, slashed the recommended maximum levels for several pollutants, including particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, both of which are found in fossil fuel emissions.
Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats to human health, alongside climate change, it said. The WHO cited clear evidence of the damage inflicted by air pollution on human health at even lower concentrations than previously understood.
WHO has adjusted almost all the air quality guidelines’ levels downwards, warning that exceeding the new air quality guideline levels is associated with significant risks to health. At the same time, however, adhering to them could save millions of lives, it said.
Long-term exposure to even lower concentrations of ambient and household air pollution can cause diseases including 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 attributable to air pollution on a par with other major global health risks such as unhealthy diet and tobacco smoking, it said.
People living in low- and middle-income countries are hit the hardest due to urbanisation and economic development heavily reliant on burning fossil fuels, it said.