WHO tightened air quality standards over health hazard

admin November 8, 2021
Updated 2021/11/08 at 3:36 PM

The World Health Organization (WHO) stated on Wednesday that the effects of air pollution start at far lower levels than previously believed, as it reduced permissible limits for many pollutants, including ultrafine PM2.5 particles, which India has traditionally struggled to control.

The revised criteria require that the average 24-hour exposure to PM2.5 be less than 15 g/m3, down from 25 g/m3. The permissible threshold for PM10 particles, which are common dust particles, has been reduced from 50 to 45 g/m3. The PM2.5 exposure threshold has been lowered from 10 to 5 g/m3 over a year, and the PM10 exposure level has been lowered from 20 to 15 g/m3. India’s criteria are several times greater in contrast.

According to the still-in-force 2009 National Ambient Air Quality Standards, the permissible PM2.5 exposure limit over 24 hours is 60g/m3 (four times the new WHO standard), while the year-long exposure limit is 40g/m3 (eight times the revised WHO threshold)

“A substantial new body of evidence has accumulated since 2005, further demonstrating the extent to which air pollution affects all parts of the body, from the brain to a growing baby in a mother’s womb at even lower concentrations than previously observed,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news conference.

“Air pollution is a health concern in all nations, but it disproportionately affects individuals in low- and middle-income countries,” he said, encouraging governments and professionals to utilise the new metrics in their battle against pollution.

Officials in India have said that they would examine the WHO’s new advice before taking any further action. “There are no imminent plans to alter our national air quality guidelines. We have, however, begun a research to determine whether modifications to air quality regulations are required based on health impacts,” a senior health ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

“We are aware of new research on air pollution’s health effects. The investigation would take at least a year to complete, after which a recommendation to tighten rules in India will be made. After reviewing the study, we will react to the new WHO air quality guidelines,” this individual said.

According to statistics from the environment ministry, 132 cities in India do not satisfy the national air quality guideline for particle matter. To update the WHO recommendations, a group of experts from across the globe performed a meta-analysis of over 500 epidemiological research on the health effects of air pollution. According to Kalpana Balakrishnan, head of the Indian Council of Medical Research’s Centre for Advanced Research on Air Quality, Climate, and Health and a member of the WHO technical committee that produced the new recommendations, research from India and South Asia were included for the first time.

“The rules had to be updated since the old ones had been in place for 16 years. We looked at over 500 epidemiological studies, including both long-term and short-term impacts. For the first time, 19-20 studies from South Asia were evaluated, including 3-4 from India. According to Balakirishnan, the WHO recommendations are “essentially values supported by unambiguous epidemiological data at which the greatest health benefits may be obtained.”

According to the new WHO guideline, even modest levels of ambient and home air pollution may cause illnesses including lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke, resulting in 7 million premature deaths per year. The organisation said, “This puts the burden of illness due to air pollution on line with other significant global health hazards like poor eating and cigarette smoking.”

The recommendations also set intermediate goals for nations to achieve in order to reach the WHO recommendation. The first yearly intermediate goal for PM 2.5 is 35 g/m3, followed by 25, 15, and 10 g/m3.

“We must recognise that India’s air pollution poses a significant health risk. Air pollution is responsible for about 1 million premature deaths in this country. The intermediate goals show that attaining 35 g/m3 yearly is beneficial. Our yearly standard is 40 grammes per square metre. So, rather than embarking on a massive job of rewriting standards, let us first attempt to fulfil them. Of course, we must adhere to the primary WHO recommendation. Cities or areas that first achieve the national level may next focus on achieving interim goals and WHO guidelines,” Balakrishnan said.

According to statistics from the Central Pollution Control Board’s National Air Quality Monitoring Programme (NAMP), yearly average PM2.5 levels in Delhi last year varied from 114 to 145 g/m3 in three of the CPCB’s monitored sites. As a result, Delhi’s PM2.5 pollution levels in 2020 were at least 22 times higher than the new WHO limit.

According to NAMP statistics, significant areas of the Indo-Gangetic Plains region, including many cities in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Punjab, and Haryana, had very high PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations.

According to the State of Global Air (SOGA 2020), approximately 116,000 babies died in India within a month of birth owing to severe air pollution in 2019. India had the greatest burden of infant fatalities due to air pollution (67,900), followed by Nigeria (56,500), Pakistan (56,500), Ethiopia (22,900), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (22,900), according to a study by the US-based Health Effects Institute and Global Burden of Disease (1,200).

Despite modest improvements in air quality, the worldwide mortality toll and years of healthy life lost during the 1990s has hardly decreased. While air quality has improved significantly in high-income nations over this time, it has worsened in most low- and middle-income countries as a result of large-scale urbanisation and economic growth, according to the executive summary of the WHO Air Quality Guidelines 2021.

The recommendations are not legally obligatory on nations, but they are intended to offer advice on how to lower air pollution levels in order to minimise the health impact, according to the summary. Only data with high or moderate confidence of a link between a pollutant and a particular health result was considered to determine the recommended AQG values, according to the study.

There are no recommendations in these guidelines for pollutant mixes or the cumulative effects of multiple pollutant exposures. People are exposed to a variety of air contaminants in their daily lives, which varies in place and time.

“The World Health Organization’s Air Quality Guidelines were last revised in 2005, and the amount of research on the health consequences of air pollution has expanded significantly since then. Globally, air pollution was responsible for more than one out of every nine fatalities in 2019. “An worldwide expert committee spearheaded the development of these new recommendations, and the team examined all available global data on this topic,” said Pallavi Pant, senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute in the United States.

“Lung and heart disease, as well as cancer, diabetes, and severe health concerns for infants, have all been linked to air pollution. As India continues to implement the national clean air programme (NCAP) and revises its National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), it will be critical to align with the WHO Air Quality Guidelines, including interim targets for various air pollutants, as well as identify and implement policies that will help bring clean air to all,” Pant said.

“When it comes to CO and the 8-hour limit for ozone, India has agreed with the WHO” (O3). WHO is attempting to convey to us that even at extremely low concentrations of some contaminants, health effects may skyrocket. India may not be able to achieve PM 2.5 concentrations of 5 micrograms per cubic metre, but it should establish tough and attainable goals. Because pollution levels vary greatly throughout the nation, various solutions are required. According to Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of the Centre for Science and Environment, “the southern and western states may strive and look at the WHO guideline.”

In January 2019, India announced its National Clean Air Programme (NCAP). NCAP does not have a legislative mandate, but it intends to reduce PM 2.5 concentrations by 20% to 30% in over a hundred cities by 2024 compared to 2017 annual levels.

During the fiscal years 2019-20 and 2020-21, a total of 375.44 crore has been allocated to 114 cities for the implementation of municipal action plans to combat air pollution. In addition, according to the recommendations of the 15th Finance Commission report for FY 2020-21, a total of Rs 4,400 crore has been given to 42 cities with populations of one million or more.



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