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New WHO air-quality guidelines aim to cut deaths linked to fossil fuels By Reuters


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO. The Eiffel Tower was surrounded by small-particle pollution. This is the City of Light’s worst year for air quality in 10 years. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo


By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday issued its first air quality guidelines since 2005 aimed at reducing deaths from key pollutants that cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

As a guide to its 194 countries, the United Nations agency reduced maximum levels of many pollutants. This included particulate matter as well as nitrogen dioxide. Both are caused by fossil fuel emissions.

It stated that “air pollution” is the second biggest threat to our health.

WHO provided “clear evidence” that air pollution has a detrimental effect on the health of humans, even at lower levels than was previously believed.

“The WHO adjusted nearly all of the air quality guidelines levels down, warning that excessive air pollution can pose serious health risks. It said that adhering with them could help save many lives.

According to WHO, long-term exposure even to lower levels of household and ambient air pollution could lead to diseases such as lung cancer and heart disease. This can result in 7 million premature deaths annually.

According to the WHO, “this puts air pollution’s burden on the same level as other global health risk factors such unhealthy eating habits and smoking.”

It stated that people living in countries with low and moderate incomes are most affected by urbanization and an economic system heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

The WHO stated that reducing exposure to particulate material (PM), which can penetrate deep into the lungs or enter the bloodstream, is an urgent priority. They are mostly generated from fuel combustion, which can be found in transport, energy and industry.

WHO reduced by half the average PM2.5 annual level, from 10 micrograms/cm to 5. The WHO also reduced the PM10 limit from 20 to 15 micrograms per cubic meter.

The PM2.5 limit was reduced from 20 to 15 micrograms.

“What matters most is whether governments implement impactful policies to reduce pollutant emissions, such as ending investments in coal, oil and gas and prioritizing the transition to clean energy,” said Dr. Aidan Farrow, a Greenpeace international air pollution scientist who is based at Britain’s University of Exeter.

He stated that the failure to adhere to existing WHO guidelines should not be repeated.

(Reporting and writing by Stephanie Nebehay; additional reporting by David Stanway in Shanghai; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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