The World Health Organization on Monday, about six months after tightening its air quality guidelines, released an update to its air quality database, drawing on information from a growing number of cities and towns around the world – now over 6,000 communities.
According to the WHO, 99% of the world’s population breathe air that exceeds their air quality limits and is often full of particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs, penetrate veins and arteries and cause disease. Air quality is worst in the WHO’s eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asia regions, followed by Africa, it said.
“After surviving a pandemic, it is unacceptable that there are still 7 million preventable deaths and countless years of preventable health lost due to air pollution,” said Dr. Maria Neira, Head of the WHO Division for Environment, Climate Change and Health. “Yet too much investment is still being made in a polluted environment rather than in clean, healthy air.”
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The database, which has traditionally considered two types of particulate matter known as PM2.5 and PM10, has included ground measurements of nitrogen dioxide for the first time. The last version of the database was released in 2018.
Nitrogen dioxide comes mainly from the human-caused combustion of fuel, such as from car traffic, and is most common in urban areas. Exposure can lead to respiratory illnesses like asthma and symptoms like coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing, as well as more hospital and emergency room visits, the WHO said. The highest concentrations were found in the eastern Mediterranean.
On Monday, the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus suffered from high levels of atmospheric dust for the third straight day, with some cities experiencing three and almost four times the 50 micrograms per square meter that authorities believe is normal. Officials said the microscopic particles could be particularly harmful to young children, the elderly and the sick.
Particulate matter has many sources, such as traffic, power plants, agriculture, waste incineration and industry – as well as natural sources such as desert dust. Developing countries are particularly hard hit: India had high levels of PM10, while China had high levels of PM2.5, the database showed.
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“Particulate matter, particularly PM2.5, can penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, causing cardiovascular, cerebrovascular (stroke) and respiratory effects,” WHO said. “There is evidence that particulate matter affects other organs and also causes other diseases.”
The findings underscore the sheer scale of the changes needed to tackle air pollution, said Anumita Roychowdhury, air pollution expert at the Center for Science and Environment, a research organization in New Delhi.
India and the world must brace for major changes to curb air pollution, including the use of electric vehicles, the shift away from fossil fuels, the massive expansion of green energy and the segregation of waste types, she said.
The Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a New Delhi-based think tank, found that more than 60% of India’s PM2.5 pollution comes from households and industries. Tanushree Ganguly, who leads the council’s air quality programme, called for action to reduce emissions from industry, automobiles, biomass burning and household energy.
“We must prioritize access to clean energy for homes that need it most and take active steps to clean up our industrial sector,” she said.
Aniruddha Ghosal in New Delhi contributed to this report.
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https://abc13.com/world-health-organization-who-air-quality-pollutants-definition/11711386/ WHO air quality map: According to the World Health Organization, 99% of the world’s population does not meet the standards