The World Health Organisation (WHO), in its first-ever update since 2005, has tightened global air pollution standards announcing more stringent limits for six pollutant categories such as particulate matter (PM), ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) sulfur dioxide (SO2) and carbon monoxide (CO) as impact of air pollution on health is much more serious than earlier envisaged.
- The upper limit of annual PM2.5 as per the 2005 standards, which is what countries now follow, is 10 ug/m3 has now been revised to 5 ug/m3.
- The 24-hour ceiling used to be 25 microgram but has now been dropped to 15.
- The upper limit of PM10, or particulate matter of size exceeding 10 microgram, is currently 20 microgram and has now been revised to 15, whereas the 24-hour value has been revised from 50 to 45 microgram.
- NO2 levels, which are primarily attributable to vehicular emissions, have been revised to 10 ug/m3, in comparison to 40 ug/m3 in 2005.
Health consequences of pollution
- Exposure to high levels of air pollution can cause a variety of adverse health outcomes. It increases the risk of respiratory infections, heart disease and lung cancer.
- Both short and long term exposure to air pollutants have been associated with health impacts. More severe impacts affect people who are already ill.
- Air pollution is projected to cause 7 million premature deaths per year, as well as the loss of millions of healthy years of life.
- Reduced lung growth and function, respiratory infections, and asthma flare-ups are all possibilities in youngsters.
- Heart disease and stroke are the most prevalent causes of premature death in adults due to outdoor air pollution, although evidence of other consequences such as diabetes and neurodegenerative disorders is now emerging.
- This puts the illness burden associated with air pollution on line with other significant global health concerns like poor diet and cigarette use.
- Children, the elderly and poor people are more susceptible. The most health-harmful pollutants – closely associated with excessive premature mortality are fine PM2.5 particles that penetrate deep into lung passageways.
India and Pollution
- India remains one of the world’s most polluted countries, with pollution levels three times higher than recommended.
- According to a Greenpeace analysis, in 2020, the average PM2.5 concentration in New Delhi will be roughly 17 times higher than the permissible levels.
- Even when compared to WHO’s 2005 guidelines, India’s national air quality regulations are far more liberal.
- Pollution levels were eight times higher in Mumbai, over nine times higher in Kolkata, and over five times higher in Chennai.
- According to specialists from the Global Burden of Disease study, more than 95 percent of India’s population already lived in places with pollution levels above WHO’s 2005 standards.
Impact on India
- According to the new air quality rules, practically all of India would be classified polluted for the majority of the year.
- However, the WHO admits that more than 90% of the world’s population lives in places that do not meet its pollution criteria from 2005.
- Experts note that this region has difficult meteorological and climatic conditions, as well as haze columns, heat island effects, and extremely high base pollution levels.
- The new WHO guidelines should encourage India to work harder to improve its air quality and safety.
- Furthermore, the new rules’ viability is debatable, particularly in difficult geo-climatic zones such as south Asia, which includes India.
- The measure, however, has no immediate impact on India because the country’s National Ambient Air Quality Requirements (NAAQS) do not meet the WHO’s existing standards.
- The government has a specific National Clean Air Program that seeks to reduce particulate matter concentrations by 20 percent to 30 percent in 122 cities by 2024, using 2017 as the baseline year for comparison.
India’s ambient air quality standards were last updated in 2009. The Central Pollution Control Board is reportedly working on framing revised guidelines. Even though complete compliance with them might be difficult, the CPCB cannot afford to ignore the WHO’s new benchmarks. The heightened health risks of pollution, underlined by the new guidelines, should be the key takeaway for India’s premier pollution monitoring agency – and all other agencies responsible for clean air in the country. The National Clean Air Programme does talk of inter-sectoral linkages, especially health and environment, and sets time-bound targets — most importantly, a 20-30 per cent reduction in particulate matter concentration in 2024 compared to 2017. But the programme’s litmus test will lie in the manner in which it brings together the inputs of different departments into its final action plan – in the absence of such concerted action, the NCAP could end up becoming another data-gathering exercise.
How to structure:
- Give a brief introduction of WHO’s new air quality standards
- Explain these standards
- Now explain the relationship between health and pollution based on these standard.
- Examine how these new standards will deal with air pollution