The World Health Organization released new air quality guidelines on Wednesday, aiming to reduce, from more than 7 million, the number of people who die prematurely each year thanks to particulate matter from pollution. Fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, comes from burning fossil fuels, wildfires, and agriculture, and can get embedded into the lungs when inhaled and lead to a number of health complications including asthma, heart disease, chronic bronchitis, and other respiratory illnesses.
The new targets halve the recommended maximum average annual concentrations of fine particulate matter to no higher than 5 micrograms per cubic meter, half the 10 µg/m3 recommendation established in 2005. Much of the world already fails to meet the previously recommended PM2.5 levels: According to WHO, more than 90% of the world’s population lives in conditions that don’t meet the 2005 standard. Observers noted that nations’ ability to achieve improvements in air quality in line with the new health guidance will go hand-in-hand with the commitments coming out of the upcoming global climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.
The world has “to stop burning fossil fuels,” said Susan Anenberg, associate professor of environmental and occupational health and global health at George Washington University. “What the world decides to do about climate change in the coming weeks will have major impacts on whether or not we’re able to follow a guideline like that.” (AP, CNN, Reuters, Bloomberg $)