Changes to WHO guidelines could mean EU pollution limits are too high 

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently updated its air quality guidelines, and this included tightening its recommendations for limits on air pollution. 

This change was made after the organization found evidence that air pollution could start being damaging to human health at much lower levels than previously believed. 

The WHO European Centre for Environment and Health in Bonn has been setting air quality guidelines since the 1980s to try and reduce the risk to public health. 

A recent report put together by the EU Court of Auditors described air pollution could be the “biggest environmental risk” to health in Europe.

It’s currently estimated that, globally, 7 million people a year die prematurely to air pollution, as it can cause respiratory problems, lung damage, heart disease, and strokes. 

This figure includes approximately 500,000 premature deaths in the European region. Taking action in this area could reduce the risk of these diseases and save lives. 

What are the new guidelines? 

Improving air quality could mean many health benefits. But, the new WHO guidelines put the EU legal limit for air pollution way out, with the bloc allowing some types of pollution at levels four or five times higher than the recommended limit. 

The organization said in its report that, since the last time its global recommendation was updated in 2005, there has been a  marked increase in evidence that shows how air pollution affects different aspects of health” 

Its new Global Air Quality Guidelines cover six pollutants: two types of particulate matter (PM), ozone (O₃), nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) sulfur dioxide (SO₂), and carbon monoxide (CO).

However, the difference between the levels recommended and the legal limits in the EU is high in some cases. For example, the EU limit on PM2.5 is five times higher. 

The report also included a statement from WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, which said, “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.”


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