The World Health Organization has set newer and stricter guidelines on global air quality to reduce impacts of air pollution on human health, the environment and the climate.

The updated WHO Global Air Quality Guidelines- the first update since 2005 provide recommendations on air quality thresholds covering some of the most monitored air pollutants: particulate matter (‎PM2.5 and PM10), ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide. The reformation comes as the reports and evidence on the adverse effects from exposure to the stated classical pollutants and the overall poor air quality situation show a significant increase, even at concentrations that are previously perceived to be safe.

The said organization estimates that air pollution is one of the biggest threats to human health and is responsible for a range of health problems like lung cancer, stroke, asthmatic complications, heart diseases and premature deaths.

As opposed to the previous guidelines released 15 years ago, the new air quality standards are more stringent, with vivid details on the sources and the contribution of air pollution to the global burden of diseases.

The details on the updated AQGs are as follows:

Source: WHO

Following the publication of the guidelines are interim targets to promote stepwise progress and achieve moderate yet measurable benefits as well as good practice statements to control certain types of particulate matter such as black carbon/elemental carbon, ultrafine particles, particles originating from sand and dust storms where air quality guidelines cannot be established since strong evidence on its health effects are currently insufficient. These are applicable to both outdoor and indoor environments worldwide, covering all settings.

Air Pollution: Sources, Causes and Effects

Air pollution is the term used when the outdoor and indoor air quality is contaminated and modified due to the presence of poisonous particles, chemicals, physical and biological agents. Majority of the air contains some pollutants, which we are all probably exposed to some degree. While there are hundreds of sources of ambient air pollution, the largest contributors in most outdoor locations are forest fires, burning coal, industrial operations, natural disasters and emissions from vehicles.

Conversations about air pollution are often focused on outdoor contaminants, giving very minimal attention to the quality of the air that is present in indoor locations. Poor indoor air quality is commonly due to sources that release gases and harmful particles into an enclosed space: air fresheners, building materials, printing equipment, paint, tobacco smoke and stoves.

According to reports, nine out of ten people breathe polluted air, causing seven million global deaths every year. Short-term exposure to polluted air can cause cough, headache, skin, eye and throat irritation, dizziness and fatigue, while prolonged exposure to high concentrations of indoor and outdoor air pollution can cause a variety of more serious, adverse health consequences: higher risks from respiratory diseases, cardiovascular damage, anxiety and nervous system damage. Moreover, air pollution was found to be an unignorable risk factor for infertility, premature birth, low birth weight and newborn malformations.

Wildlife and the environment can also experience many of the same negative impacts of air pollution that humans do. Air pollution can damage animals through the disruption of their endocrine and respiratory functions, increased vulnerability to neurological disorders and stress. Pollutants are also known to slow down the reproduction rate of plants, produce acid rain and destroy the ozone layer causing intensified health and environmental problems.

The Role of Air quality Guidelines In Enhancing Health and Mitigating Climate Change 

While the World Health Organization’s guidelines on air quality do not fall under any legal agreement, these evidence-based standards provide guidance for the national and local authorities working in the air pollution field, this can also be used as a vehicle for businesses and other corporate organizations in developing policies and strategies to manage air quality in their workplaces and eliminate factors that are potentially hazardous. Moreover, these guidelines are beneficial for the public as such can be used as a  basis on the safe and unsafe air quality conditions, by health professionals in preventing health risks and by various industries involved in the production, design and use of materials, buildings and products.

Alongside WHO’s updated AQGs to help reduce air pollution are various efforts that the public must consider such as ensuring proper ventilation, installing air filters and using air quality sensors to measure the factors affecting air health. Indoor air quality sensors like the uHoo Aura timely collects and displays data which can be viewed through a dashboard using a smartphone so occupants and building owners can develop effective action plans to resolve existing issues and prevent potential health and environmental risks from happening.

Through the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines combined with effective indoor and outdoor environmental efforts, we can make a remarkable change to improve the air, ensure liveability, improve  health and create a sustainable future.

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