U.N. health agency sets higher, tougher bar for air quality

www.pbs.org
5 min read
fairly difficult
Since the last update, better monitoring and science has cleared up the global picture about the effects of six air pollutants on human health. The agency says 90% of the world's people already live in areas with at least one particularly harmful type of pollutant.
GENEVA (AP) — The harmful health effects of air pollution kick in at lower levels than previously thought, the World Health Organization said Wednesday as it set a new standard for policymakers and the public in the first update of its air quality guidelines in 15 years.

The U.N. health agency released its revised guidance as climate change is a leading topic at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Chinese President Xi Jinping announced Tuesday that China will no longer fund power plants fired by coal, which generates several of the pollutants covered by the guidelines.

Since the last update of the WHO recommendations, better monitoring and science have cleared up the global picture about the effects of six major air pollutants on human health. According to the agency, 90% of the world's people already live in areas with at least one particularly harmful type of pollutant.

"There is nothing more essential for life than air quality," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters. "And yet, because of air pollution, the simple act of breathing contributes to 7 million deaths a year. Almost everyone around the world is exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution."

Air pollution is now comparable to other global health risks like unhealthy diets and smoking tobacco, WHO said. It is recognized "as the single biggest environmental threat to human health," Dr. Dorota Jarosinska, WHO Europe program manager for living and working environments, said.

The guidelines, which are not legally binding and intended as a reference for policymakers, advocacy groups and academics, change the advised concentrations of six pollutants known to have impacts on health: two types of particulate matter known as PM 2.5 and PM 10, as well as ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide.

The guidelines could also send a message to the wider public about lifestyle and business choices –- whether it's driving cars and trucks, disposing of garbage, working…
Read full article