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WHO tightens air quality guidelines

Marianne Amble

Guideline for PM2.5 down by half

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently published their updated air quality guidelines for outdoor air. The new recommendation for fine particles (PM2.5) is set to 5 µg/m3 (annual mean), down from the previous guideline of 10 µg/m3.

New and old WHO guidelines: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/ambient-(outdoor)-air-quality-and-health and and https://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/147851/E87950.pdf)

EU: https://ec.europa.eu/environment/air/quality/standards.htm

Norway: https://lovdata.no/dokument/SF/forskrift/2004-06-01-931/KAPITTEL_3-1-1#%C2%A77-8 and https://www.miljodirektoratet.no/hoeringer/2021/september-2021/forslag-til-nye-grenseverdier-for-svevestov-pm10-og-pm25-i-forurensningsforskriften-kapittel-7/

This new guideline is lower than most countries and regions have set as thresholds, sending a signal that even low exposure to particle pollution is a serious threat to people’s health. Air pollution, and especially particulate matter, is one of the main reasons of premature deaths globally.

This is the first update of the WHO guidelines since 2005. The organisation has also updated their recommendations for PM10, down from 20 to 15 µg/m3, as well as for a number of other pollutants.

Europe – stricter standards to come?

The EU’s current air quality standard sets the limit for yearly PM2.5 levels to 25 µg/m3, with an additional objective of 20 µg/m3 for population exposure. The European Commission is planning a revision of their air quality standards next year to better align them with the recommendations from the Worlds Health Organisation.

A closer look at Europe shows that only a handful of countries meet the new WHO guideline for PM2.5 exposure, see the map below. As we have discussed before, the Eastern European countries and notably the Balkans are suffering from the continent’s poorest air. However, the development in EU is by large going the right way, as our story from last year shows.

Source: https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/dashboards/air-quality-statistics. Map created by Airmine using mapchart.net.

Please note that the colours on the map are based on annual mean based on the measurement stations in the different countries. These stations are not necessarily representing all locations in a country. Typically, the measurement stations are placed in urban areas and close to traffic.

Norway – probably new thresholds from 2022

By global standards, Norway is a pretty pristine country. Nevertheless, a quick look at emissions data for 2020 indicates that a large share of the Norwegians breathe air which does not meet the new WHO criteria.

The national authorities are currently proposing a tightening of the current air quality standards, lowering the annual target from 15 to 10 µg/m3. The current “criteria for good air quality” is kept at 8 µg/m3.

Source: https://luftkvalitet.nilu.no/historikk. Annual means for 2020 has been averaged by Airmine across measurement stations in each location.

Lots of standards? Confused?

There is quite a number of air quality guidelines and standards out there. As we have discussed before, what is considered a safe level depends on where you live. Green level in Delhi does not necessarily mean green in Stockholm.

Want to know the air quality where you live?

Airmine has developed an air quality sensor, measuring pm2.5, if you are interested, please sign up here (we currently only ship to Norway).

In the meantime, you may want to try the Airmine app, available in Appstore and Google Play. Hourly air quality forecasts, pollen levels for Europe and a personal symptoms diary and analysis.

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