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Only seven countries meet WHO air quality standards, study finds

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Only seven countries meet WHO air quality standards, study finds

Only seven countries meet international air quality standards, with deadly air pollution worsening in places due to a rebound in economic activity and the toxic impact of wildfire smoke, according to a new report.

Of the 134 countries and regions studied in the report, only seven – Australia, Estonia, Finland, Grenada, Iceland, Mauritius and New Zealand – meet the limits set by the World Organization of Health (WHO) for tiny airborne particles expelled by cars, trucks and industries. process.

The vast majority of countries do not meet this standard for PM2.5, a type of microscopic grain of soot smaller than the width of a human hair that, when inhaled, can cause a myriad of health and safety problems. death, risking serious consequences for the population. according to the IQAir reporta Swiss air quality organization that uses data from more than 30,000 monitoring stations around the world.

Even though the planet’s air is generally much cleaner than it was for most of the last century, there are still places where pollution levels are particularly dangerous. The most polluted country, Pakistan, has PM2.5 levels more than 14 times the WHO standard, according to the IQAir report, followed by India, Tajikistan and Burkina Faso.

But even in rich and rapidly developing countries, progress in reducing air pollution is under threat. Canada, long considered to have the cleanest air in the Western world, became the worst country for PM2.5 last year due to record wildfires that ravaged the country, sending out radiation toxic across the country and in the United States.

In China, improvements in air quality were complicated last year by a rebound in economic activity following the Covid-19 pandemic, with the report showing an increase of 6, 5% of PM2.5 levels.

“Unfortunately, things have gone backwards,” said Glory Dolphin Hammes, IQAir general manager for North America. “The science is quite clear on the impacts of air pollution and yet we are so used to having a background level of pollution that is too high for good health. We are not making adjustments quickly enough.

Air pollution kills about 7 million people a year worldwide – more than AIDS and malaria combined – and this burden is particularly felt in developing countries that rely on particularly dirty fuels for heating, lighting and interior cooking.

The most polluted urban area in the world last year was Begusarai in India, according to IQAir’s sixth annual report, with India home to the four most polluted cities in the world. However, much of the developing world, particularly countries in Africa, lack reliable air quality measurements.

WHO lowered its guideline for “safe” levels of PM2.5 in 2021 at five micrograms per cubic meter and by this measure many countries, such as those in Europe which have significantly cleaned up their air over the past 20 years, are falling short not achieve their goals.

But even this stricter directive may not fully take into account the risk of insidious air pollution. Research published by US scientists last month found there is no safe level of PM2.5, with even the smallest exposures linked to increased hospitalizations for conditions such as heart disease and asthma .

Hammes said countries should act to make their cities more walkable and less car-dependent, change their forestry practices to help reduce the impact of wildfire smoke and move more quickly to adopt clean energy instead of fossil fuels. “We share the atmospheric envelope with everyone in the world and we need to make sure we don’t do things that harm those elsewhere,” she said.

Aidan Farrow, senior air quality scientist at Greenpeace International, said better air quality monitoring was also needed.

“In 2023, air pollution remains a global health disaster. IQAir’s global data set serves as an important reminder of the resulting injustices and the need to implement the many solutions that exist to this problem,” he said.

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