New WHO Air Quality Guidelines: what they mean for Australia

QUT Distinguished Professor Lidia Morawska, co-chair of the Guidelines Development Group which developed  the new World Health Organisation Air Quality Guidelines released overnight, says the guidelines aim to reduce millions of premature deaths a year worldwide.

The guidelines recommend new air quality levels to protect the health of populations, by reducing levels of key air pollutants, some of which also contribute to climate change.

The new WHO guidelines were announced overnight in Bonn, Germany, and are a major update of air quality guidelines that were last revised in 2005.

The recommendations included in the guidelines provide much lower concentration levels for major pollutants – particulate matter (PM), ozone (O), nitrogen dioxide (NO) sulfur dioxide (SO) and carbon monoxide (CO).

“Almost all of the guidelines as to what constitutes acceptable levels of air pollution in the air have been reduced because extensive scientific research, since the guidelines were revised in 2005, has shown adverse health effects at lower levels,” Professor Morawska said.

“More than 90 per cent of the world’s population lives in places where air pollution levels exceed even the previous much higher WHO guideline limits. With these new limits, it will be almost everyone.

“Air pollution is a global problem, with factors such as smog hanging over cities and open fires used in many countries for cooking.

“In Australia, we have many factors that need to be considered including industry, transport, bush fires and dust storms.”

Professor Morawska last week was been named in the 2021 TIME100, the annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

“Air pollution is recognised as one of the biggest environmental threats to human health, and on par with major global health risks with things such as tobacco smoking,” Professor Morawska said.


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