The revision of WHO’s Global Air Quality Guidelines: a milestone for public health

Following the revision of the WHO Global Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs), a statement issued by the European Respiratory Society endorsed by over 100 medical, public health, and scientific societies including EPHA, was issued, thus expressing their support and urging nations to use the new guidelines as a blueprint for ambitious air quality and emission reduction policies around the world.


Air pollution is a major global public health risk factor and puts an enormous financial burden on societies. Outdoor and household air pollution together accounted for approximately 12% of all deaths in 2019. The overwhelming body of evidence has shown that the health effects of air pollution are serious and can affect nearly all organ systems of the human body, thus making the revision of the 2005 WHO AQGs a necessity. Moreover, recent studies and large research programmes consistently show that the adverse effects of air pollution are not only limited to high exposures; harmful health effects can be observed all the way down to very low concentration levels, with no observable thresholds below which exposure can be considered safe.

The new air quality guidelines are ambitious, stress the importance of lowering air pollution concentrations at every level, and reflect the large impact that air pollution has on global health. Recognising that the adverse health effects of pollution exposure can be seen at all is a milestone for cleaner air and better health policies, and offers a wake-up call, to reconsider current air quality legislation and regulations. The estimated health benefits of improved air quality, which include decreased mortality, lower medical expenditures for air pollution-related diseases, and higher productivity of workers, outweigh by far the implementation costs of air quality actions.

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