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“No safe level of air pollution exists. The World Health Organization’s new Global Air Quality Guidelines emphasize how improving air quality can achieve substantial health benefits for people everywhere.”

Statement from Sumi Mehta, Senior Epidemiologist, Vital Strategies, on the release of WHO’s Global Air Quality Guidelines: 

Sept. 22, 2021— “More than 90% of the world’s population breathes unhealthy air. Air pollution accounts for around 12% of deaths each year, mainly from chronic respiratory and heart disease, making it the fourth leading risk factor for global ill health. Air pollution-related illness and death are not equally distributed—women, children and poor people often bear a disproportionate share of exposure to pollution, and are particularly vulnerable due to underlying health conditions or limited access to timely care. 

The new World Health Organization Air Quality Guidelines emphasize that no safe level of air pollution exists. 

If every country achieved the new, and more stringent, level of PM2.5 (fine particulate matter), which is the most commonly used indicator linking air quality to health, 80% of the more than 5 million annual global deaths attributed to this harmful pollutant could be prevented.  

While the new targets are ambitious, governments should not be discouraged. Even incremental improvements in air quality will have significant health benefits in areas with high air pollution levels, as well as in places where progress has already been made. 

Air pollution has wide-reaching negative health and social consequences that are further exacerbated by the global climate crisis. As we work toward achieving these new targets, the outcomes can be a win-win—improving health and air quality, and reducing carbon emissions. Air pollution is a global emergency and a public health priority. Government action will make global progress possible.  

The Air Quality Guidelines should become the basis of every country’s air quality standards.  

We look forward to continuing our work with governments, policymakers and civil society to build support for clean air policies that protect people around the world.” 

Learn more about our work in environmental health.

About the World Health Organization Air Quality Guidelines 

The World Health Organization’s Global Air Quality Guidelines provide recommendations on air quality for six key pollutants, setting more ambitious and stringent air quality standards. The revised guidelines were informed by a comprehensive review of new evidence published since the last version was released in 2005.  The updated guidelines emphasize that there is no safe level of air pollution.  

About Vital Strategies’ work in Environmental Health 

The Environmental Health Division has played a critical role in Vital’s work, leveraging the tools of public health to promote healthy and sustainable outcomes for people living in an increasingly urbanized world. Find out more and follow us on Twitter @VitalStrat

About Vital Strategies 

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible.