Air Pollution and Health go hand in hand. The rise in Air pollution increases the associated health impacts for humans as well as the environment. This led WHO to update the existing Air Quality Guidelines. The guidelines were updated on 22 September, 2021.

The updated guidelines by WHO will help policy makers to make strategy for air quality management and the aim is to save lives globally. These guidelines are updated after 16 years. New guidelines have reduced the ideal concentration of pollutants in air and aims to reduce 48 % of total global death burden due to PM2.5 solely. PM 2.5 is a known carcinogen according to WHO-IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer). 

Increased Global Disease burden:

According to WHO, 7 million premature deaths are seen due to air pollution every year. The most severely affected countries are Low-Middle Income Countries (LMICs). Increased air pollution contributes towards climate change also.

As per WHO 2016 data, 90% of global population is living in areas with exceeding thresholds for AQI and 100% of people in South Asia live in cities with poor AQI. Since 1990, bare reduction in global death toll & healthy life year loss is seen. In children, reduced growth and function of lungs, aggravated asthma and respiratory functions are seen.

Adults experience stroke, ischemic heart disease, diabetes and neurodegenerative disorders. Personal habits such as smoking tobacco and an unhealthy diet increases the severity of air pollution disorders. Results from global assessment of ambient air pollution showed the loss of thousands of healthy life years as an effect of air pollution. Reduction in healthy life years is majorly seen in Low Middle Income Countries.

The other associated health effects of air pollution are Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD), asthma, airways irritation and inflammation, irritation of eyes, nose & throat, stroke, cardiovascular disorder, skin allergies, hair damage, haze production, damaged foliage and crop yield, reduced IQ in children, reduced growth rate etc. Air pollution increases morbidity, mortality from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, lungs cancer, and shows high impact on organs system.

Aim to change Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs):

  • 80% reduction in global death due to PM 2.5
  • Contributes in mitigating climate change
  • Reduce global disease burden
  • Reducing air pollutant emissions and pollution
  • Protecting and ensuring health
  • Reduce 57% and 60% deaths in South East Asian and African countries

Economic Burden of Air Pollution:

Air pollution not only affects the health but causes economic losses too. Air Pollution has resulted in absenteeism from school and work leading to economic loss. 1.4% of GDP was lost due to morbidity and premature deaths in 2019 which is similar to US$ 36.8 billion said a paper published in Lancet Planetary Health.

A report from OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) shows the cost of global air pollution is projected to increase to 3.7 billion by 2060 globally.

Greenpeace South East Asia and Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air in 2018 reported: 

  • 5 million deaths because of PM 2.5, and 1.8 billion days of absenteeism.
  • 4 million new cases of child asthma
  • 2 million preterm deaths
  • fossil fuel burning costs 5.4% of Indian GDP 

Air pollution cost for China, US and India is $900 billion, $600 billion and $150 billion respectively each year. In 2018, air pollution costs 6.6% of Chinese GDP, 5.4% of Indian GDP and 3% of US GDP.

New Air Quality Guidelines:

WHO has lowered the average concentration of all the six pollutants: Particulate Matter (PM10, PM2.5), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) and ozone (O3). 

Parameter Avg. Time 2005 Guidelines 2021 Guidelines
24 hour 25 15
Annual 10 5
24 hour 50 45
Annual 20 15
(O3) (ug/m3)
Peak season 60
8 hour 100 100
Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) (ug/m3)
24 hour 25
Annual 40 10
Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) (ug/m3) 24 hour 20 40
Carbon Monoxide (CO) (mg/m3) 24 hour 4

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