WHO Updates Air Quality Guidelines in Effort to Save Millions

The World Health Organization this week revised its guidelines for acceptable levels of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), the first time the guideline for PM 2.5 had been updated in over a decade. Under the new guidelines, the allowable limit would be reduced by 50 percent from current levels.


The new guidelines recommend a limit of 5 micrograms per cubic meter of air, down from the previous recommended limit of 10. While not binding under international law, this new guideline can help policymakers in nations around the world craft policies to bring PM 2.5 levels under control.


Curbing emissions of fine particulate matter is one of the most important aspects of improving global air quality. When inhaled, these tiny particles can enter the bloodstream and cause a host of health issues. Heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and various cancers have all been linked to long-term PM 2.5 exposure. Some researchers also believe that inhaling these harmful particles could accelerate cognitive decline in older adults and impair learning in children.


Thanks in large part to the wide-ranging health effects of PM 2.5, current estimates suggest that air pollution leads to about 7 million premature deaths each year. Over half of those deaths have been connected to fine particulate matter. Current research suggest that the average life expectancy is 2.2 years lower than it would otherwise be due to air pollution. For those living in more heavily polluted areas, this effect is even more substantial.


According to the estimates provided by the WHO, over 3 million premature deaths could be avoided each year under the new guidelines. As they are implemented by nations around the world, the rates of heart disease, strokes and other problems associated with PM 2.5 should gradually begin to slump off. It’s important to recognize, though, that these effects may not be immediate. Various nations will enact air quality policies at different rates, and developing nations that are heavily dependent on coal for energy production will likely continue to see high levels of PM 2.5.


In addition to the new PM 2.5 guidance, the WHO also lowered the allowable limits for other known air pollutants. These included nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and ozone. All of these substances are known to have adverse effects on human health, and some are contributing factors in climate change.


The WHO guideline updates represent an important step in curbing the output of harmful pollutants. When the previous guidelines were issued 15 years ago, researchers knew much less about air pollution and its effects on human health. Specifically, much less was known at the time about what level of pollution was enough to trigger severe health issues. The new guidelines integrate the body of research that has been done since the original ones were issued and better represent the realities of air pollution as it relates to health.


While there may not be much you can do about national or international air pollution problems, you can take steps to control the air quality in your own home. Browse our complete selection of home air purifiers to find the model that will best help you keep the air in your house  clean and healthy. Have questions? We’re here to help! Feel free to contact us, and we’ll be happy to provide you with answers and personalized product recommendations based on your needs.