New guidelines for global air quality issued, millions of lives will be saved

Nearly 80% of PM₂.-related deaths in the world could be avoided if current acceptable levels of air pollution were reduced to the levels proposed in the new guidelines.

For the first time since 2005, the World Health Organization (WHO) has revised its air quality guidelines and issued new guidelines. These air quality guidelines provide an assessment of the health impacts of air pollution and set limits for major air pollutants that pose further health risks. Many governments base their country’s air quality standards on these guidelines. While these guidelines are not legally binding on countries, these new recommendations for air quality standards could mark a turning point for new approaches to air pollution globally.

Keep in mind that air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats to human health along with climate change. In line with this, the WHO’s Global Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs) provide clear evidence of the harm air pollution causes on human health and show that this damage occurs at concentrations lower than previously thought harmful concentrations. The guidelines suggest new air quality levels to protect the health of populations by reducing levels of major air pollutants, some of which also contribute to climate change.

Since the WHO’s last global update in 2005, there has been a significant increase in the evidence showing how air pollution affects various aspects of health. Because of that, and after a systematic review of accumulated evidence, the WHO, warning that exceeding new air quality guideline levels is associated with significant health hazards, downgraded nearly all AQG levels. has been adjusted. Following these new guidelines could save millions of lives.

It is estimated that each year exposure to air pollution causes 7 million premature deaths and the loss of millions of healthy years of life. In children, this can include decreased lung enlargement and function, respiratory infections (breathing diseases) and aggravated asthma (asthma). In adults, ischemic heart disease and stroke are the most common causes of premature death due to outdoor air pollution, and there is evidence of other effects such as diabetes and neurodegenerative conditions. This makes the disease attribution (burden) caused by air pollution on par with other major global health risks, such as unhealthy diets and tobacco smoking.

India’s position
India’s National Clean Air Program (NCAP) aims to reduce PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations by 20-30% by 2024, with 2017 levels as the base year. Including the top 10 polluted cities in India from WHO’s list of most polluted cities, 122 cities were identified for the NCAP that did not meet India’s National Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for the period 2011-15 Were. The NAAQS standards were notified by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to ensure “protection of health” among other reasons.

According to an analysis by Greenpeace India, 92 out of 100 cities in the world have exceeded the revised air quality guidelines of WHO. Delhi’s annual PM2.5 trend in 2020 was 16.8 times higher than WHO’s 2021 guidelines of 5 ug/m3, while Mumbai’s was 8 times, Kolkata 9.4, Chennai 5.4, Hyderabad 7 times and Ahmedabad 9.8 times.

Counting premature deaths and financial losses due to air pollution in 10 cities across the world, Delhi had the highest number of deaths in 2020 with a figure of 57,000. Also, there was a loss of 14% in GDP due to air pollution.

air pollution and climate change
Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats to human health along with climate change. Improving air quality can fuel efforts to reduce climate change, and reducing emissions will result in improved air quality. By striving to achieve these guideline levels, countries will be able to neutralize global climate change while simultaneously protecting health.

Experts opinion
Responding to him, Dr. Arun Sharma, Director, National Institute for Implementation Research of Non-Communicable Diseases, ICMR, says, “There is a simple understanding that the more we stay away from air pollution, the healthier we are. The World Health Organization (WHO) has re-emphasised the need to do more to control the presence of particulate matter in the air by reducing the exposure levels of PM2.5 and PM10 under the new AQG. But for countries like India, it is a big challenge to follow these strict guidelines regarding particulate matter. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that efforts from all stakeholders will be further intensified to meet the newly set targets of particulate matter pollution.

Further, according to Dr. Ravindra Khaiwal, Professor in the Department of Environmental Health, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, “The World Health Organization has recommended even more stringent standards for the major components of air pollution. The safe condensation average of PM 2.5 has now been set at 15ug/m3 instead of 25ug/m3. This is important and will focus on taking strict and immediate steps to ensure better air quality. Air Pollution Premature Death It has become a major risk factor for diseases and diseases.The World Health Organization’s new Global Air Quality Guidelines seem extremely challenging to follow, but under the National Clean Air Program, India is planning to cut air pollution in its cities by 20 to 30%. Committed. Committed efforts are needed to reduce air pollution so that we can have a better climate and good health.”

Dr Purnima Prabhakaran, Deputy Director of the Center for Environmental Health, Public Health Foundation of India, believes that, “India’s current National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) are already quite loose in comparison to the air quality guidelines set by the World Health Organization earlier. This gives cities an opportunity to think about increased efforts to achieve interim targets through the assessment of local sources of air pollution. More stringent WHO measures will be taken when India’s NAAQS is proposed reforms in 2022. The guidelines will force more attention to the health impacts caused by air pollution.”

Dr Arvind Kumar, Founder, Lung Care Foundation and President of the Chest Surgery Institute for Chest Onco Surgery and Lung Transplantation, says, “As a doctor, we have closely observed the ill effects of air pollution on our patients. It is a public health emergency. This is a situation that is affecting the lives of people all over the world. Its worst effect is on South Asia. The use of fossil fuels is a major cause of both air pollution and climate crisis. For the governments of South Asian countries. It is imperative that they adapt their national air quality standards to the latest guidelines from the World Health Organization and adopt a regional approach in which health is central to the steps to be taken to tackle and address the air pollution crisis. We should have worked in this direction only yesterday but we missed that opportunity. Now we need to do everything for the future generations, so that this crisis can be solved as soon as possible. If we did today did not take meaningful and concrete steps So our future generations will bear the heavy brunt of this.”

Responding to him, Professor SN Tripathi, Professor at IIT Kanpur and member of the Steering Committee of the National Clean Air Program, says, “There is a lot of scientific evidence to prove that air pollution has serious health effects and 90% of the world’s population is forced to breathe polluted air. Air pollution is a very serious health hazard and the new air quality guidelines by the World Health Organization have brought this issue into focus once again. Today the condition It is that the current relaxed standard of PM2.5 in India is 40ug/cubic meter whereas the World Health Organization had set its annual limit at 10ug/cubic meter in the year 2005. Today the situation is that Indian cities are achieving even those old levels. We have to further strengthen our health data and accordingly improve the National Clean Air Programme.

New WHO guidelines recommend air quality levels for 6 pollutants, where the evidence on health effects from exposure (exposure) is most advanced. When these so-called valid pollutants – particulate matter (PM), ozone (O₃), nitrogen dioxide (NO₂), sulfur dioxide (SO₂) and carbon monoxide (CO) – are processed – they also have an effect on other harmful pollutants. .

The health risks associated with particulate matter equal to or smaller than 10 and 2.5 microns (µm) in diameter (PM₁₀ and PM₂.₅, respectively) are of particular public health relevance. Both PM₂.₅ and PM₁₀ are capable of penetrating deep into the lungs, but PM₂. can also enter the bloodstream, resulting primarily in cardiovascular and respiratory effects, and affecting other organs as well. PM is mainly generated by the combustion of fuels in various sectors including transportation, energy, households, industry and agriculture. In 2013, outdoor air pollution and particulate matter were classified as carcinogenic by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

The guidelines also highlight good practices for the management of certain types of particulate matter (for example, black carbon/elemental carbon, ultrafine particles, sand and dust storm particles), for which air quality guidelines are currently in place. There is insufficient quantitative evidence to determine the level. They apply globally to both outdoor (outdoor) and indoor (indoor) environments, and cover all settings.

a disproportionate burden of diseases
With the highest disease burden attribution in low- and middle-income countries, millions of years of healthy living are lost. The more they are exposed to air pollution, the more so are older people, children and pregnant women, especially those with chronic (long-term) conditions (such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and heart disease). There is a greater impact on the health of individuals.

Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe, said, “WHO estimates that millions of deaths occur annually from the effects of air pollution, mainly from non-communicable diseases. Clean air is a fundamental human right and healthy and should be a necessary condition for a productive society. But despite some improvements in air quality over the past three decades, millions of people are dying prematurely, and often the most vulnerable and marginalized populations are affected. Provides solid evidence and the tools needed for policy-makers to tackle this long-term health burden.”

The guideline aims to achieve recommended air quality levels for all countries. According to a rapid scenario analysis conducted by the World Health Organisation, about 80% of PM₂.₅-related deaths in the world would be avoided if current air pollution levels were reduced to the level proposed in the updated guidelines.

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