Almost all of the world’s population (99%) inhales air that exceeds the quality limits set by the WHO and endangers health. Currently, more than 6,000 cities in 117 countries monitor this indicator.
City dwellers still breathe in unhealthy levels of fine particulates and nitrogen dioxide, with those in low- and middle-income areas most at risk. This fact, included in the 2022 update of the World Health Organization (WHO) air quality database, led the institution to stress the importance of limiting the use of fossil fuels and take other tangible steps to reduce air pollution.
The information is released on the eve of World Health Day, April 7, celebrated this year under the motto “Our planet, our health”. The work introduces, for the first time, ground-based measurements of annual average concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a common urban pollutant and precursor to particulate matter and ozone.
On the other hand, it also collects the values of particles with a diameter equal to or less than 10 μm (PM10) or 2.5 μm (PM2.5). Both groups of pollutants come primarily from human activities related to fossil fuels.
“Current energy issues highlight the importance of accelerating the transition to cleaner and healthier systems“, explains Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO. “High fossil fuel prices, energy security and the urgency to tackle the twin health challenges of air pollution and climate change underscore the urgent need to move faster towards a much less fuel-dependent world. fossils“, keep on going.
Largest amount of data recorded to date
The new database is the largest to date in terms of coverage. There are now about 2,000 more cities with ground-based monitoring data for these particles than in 2011, the year these reports began.
Meanwhile, figures on air pollution damage to human health have risen rapidly in parallel. The impact is significant even with low levels of air pollutants.
Particles, particularly PM2.5, are able to penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, causing cardiovascular, cerebrovascular (stroke) and respiratory effects.
There is growing evidence that they also affect other organs and cause various pathologies. NO2 is associated with respiratory diseases, particularly asthma, which causes coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath, hospitalizations and emergency department visits.
Last year, the WHO revised its air quality guidelines, making them stricter, in a bid to help countries better assess health.