The WHO Air Quality Guidelines should be used to set air pollution reduction targets in our cities


Decades of important scientific studies have revealed the strong connection between exposure to air pollution and adverse health outcomes like respiratory infections, heart disease and lung cancer. Both short- and long-term exposure to air pollutants has been associated with health impacts, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified outdoor air pollution and particulate matter (PM) as carcinogenic to humans.

As a result, the last decades saw an increase in policies aiming to reduce air pollution and improve air quality both at the European as well as Global levels, thus reiterating the urgency for action. In September 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) updated its global air quality guidelines for particulate matter (PM₂.₅ and PM₁₀), ozone (O₃), nitrogen dioxide (NO₂), sulfur dioxide (SO₂) and carbon monoxide (CO) to better protect the health of populations. For instance, the WHO now recommends a maximum level of 5 μg/m3 for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) for long-term exposure to protect health.

These Guidelines are addressed to all countries of the world and provide uniform targets for air quality. The new targets are much stricter than most national standards in force in many parts of the world, which in some cities would mean a more than threefold reduction in the current level of pollution.

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European Public Health Alliance, 31-08-22