WHO’s New Pollution Guidelines

With air pollution becoming more and more threat to human health, at even low concentrations than previously understood, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has come up with new guidelines to protect the health of the people by reducing levels of air pollutants, some of which also contribute to climate change.

WHO’s new guidelines recommend air quality levels for 6 pollutants, where evidence has advanced the most on health effects from exposure. When action is taken on these so-called classical pollutants – particulate matter (PM), ozone (Os), nitrogen dioxide (NO) sulfur dioxide (SO) and carbon monoxide (CO), it also has an impact on other damaging pollutants. The WHO says that the burden of disease attributable to air pollution is now estimated to be on a par with other major global health risks such as unhealthy diet and tobacco smoking. Air pollution is recognised as the single biggest environmental threat to human health.

After the WHO’s 2005 global update, the world saw a marked increase of how air pollution affected different aspects of health. The UN agency has adjusted almost all the AQGs levels downwards, warning that exceeding the new air quality guideline levels is associated with significant risks to health.

WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed out;” WHO’s new Air Quality Guidelines are an evidence-based and practical tool for improving the quality of the air on which all life depends. I urge all countries and all those fighting to protect our environment to put them to use to reduce suffering and save lives.”




The overall objective of the updated global guidelines is to offer quantitative health-based recommendations for air quality management, expressed as longor short-term concentrations for a number of key air pollutants. Exceedance of the air quality guideline (AQG) levels is associated with important risks to public health. These guidelines are not legally binding standards; however, they do provide WHO Member States with an evidence-informed tool that they can use to inform legislation and policy. Ultimately, the goal of these guidelines is to provide guidance to help reduce levels of air pollutants in order to decrease the enormous health burden resulting from exposure to air pollution worldwide.

The guidelines also highlight good practices for the management of certain types of particulate matter (for example, black carbon/elemental carbon, ultrafine particles, particles originating from sand and dust storms) for which there is currently insufficient quantitative evidence to set air quality guideline levels. They are applicable to both outdoor and indoor environments globally, and cover all settings.

  • Make systematic measurements of black carbon and/or elemental carbon. Such measurements should not replace or reduce existing monitoring of those pollutants for which guidelines currently exist.
  • Undertake the production of emission inventories, exposure assessments and source apportionment for BC/EC.
  • Take measures to reduce BC/EC emissions from within the relevant jurisdiction and, where appropriate, develop standards (or targets) for ambient BC/EC concentrations.
  • Quantify ambient UFP in terms of PNC for a size range with a lower limit of ≤ 10 nm and no restriction on the upper limit.
  • Expand the common air quality monitoring strategy by integrating UFP monitoring into the existing air quality monitoring. Include size-segregated real-time PNC measurements at selected air monitoring stations in addition to and simultaneously with other airborne pollutants and characteristics of PM.
  • Distinguish between low and high PNC to guide decisions on the priorities of UFP source emission control. Low PNC can be considered  10 000 particles/cm3 (24-hour mean) or 20 000 particles/cm3 (1-hour mean).
  • Utilize emerging science and technology to advance approaches to the assessment of exposure to UFP for their application in epidemiological studies and UFP management.
  • Maintain suitable air quality management and dust forecasting programmes
  • Maintain suitable air quality monitoring programmes and reporting procedures
  • Conduct epidemiological studies, including those addressing the long-term effects of SDS, and research activities aimed at better understanding the toxicity of the different types of PM.
  • Implement wind erosion control through the carefully planned expansion of green spaces that considers and is adjusted to the contextual ecosystem conditions.
  • Clean the streets in those urban areas characterized by a relatively high population density and low rainfall to prevent resuspension by road traffic as a short-term measure after intense SDS episodes with high dust deposition rates.



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