September 22, 2021, 5:05 p.m.
Geneva (dpa) The EU is not a model boy when it comes to limit values for air pollutants, measured against the standards of the World Health Organization. Now the WHO is tightening its recommendations. The EU is under pressure to act.
Bad air is harmful to health as has long been assumed, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the existing limit values for pollution are too weak. As a result, they have tightened their guideline values for the maximum exposure that is still acceptable to health. Among other things, it is about fine dust and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
Even in the corona pandemic, games die Air pollution matter, so the WHO are dying. Anyone who has a respiratory disease due to bad air runs a greater risk than a healthy person to become seriously ill with an infection with the coronavirus.
Health suffers from air pollution
Tamara Schikowski from the Leibniz Institute for Environmental Medicine Research at the University of Düsseldorf (IUF) said the new guide values are lower than expected and the goal is to be achieved.
The WHO is adjusting the guideline values for the first time since 2005, because studies have shown how much health suffers from air pollution. Exceeding the new limit values is associated with considerable health risks. According to WHO estimates, seven million people worldwide die in the short term every year from air pollution. Millions of people would be robbed of healthy years of life. In children, lung growth could be disturbed and asthma symptoms increased. In adults, air pollution can promote heart disease and strokes.
The pollution with nitrogen dioxide, which in metropolitan areas mainly comes from diesel cars, should in future be only 10 micrograms per cubic meter instead of the previous 40. The EU currently allows 40. Even the 40 limit was breached in Germany in 2019, as the EU Environment Agency EEA in Copenhagen has just reported. “In particular, the lowest concentrations for NO2 are surprising and it will be difficult to achieve these lowest values in Germany as well,” said Schikowski.
Fine dust pollution from traffic and the energy industry
Fine dust, which can be drawn into the lungs and bloodstream, is of particular importance, according to the WHO. It arises, for example, through combustion processes in traffic, in the energy industry, households, agriculture and in landfills. The pollution is very high in Southeast Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean, i.e. the WHO.
For fine dust, the EU guideline values that also apply to Germany are significantly higher than the WHO recommendations from 2005. The EU limit value for fine dust with a particle size of 2.5 micrometers (PM 2.5) is 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The WHO recently recommended 10 and has now reduced this number to 5 micrograms. For fine dust with a particle size of 10 micrometers, the EU even allows 40 micrograms per cubic meter of air, while the WHO has reduced the guideline value from 20 to 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air.
Even the application of the old WHO guideline value for fine dust (PM 2.5) would have meant that three quarters of the city dwellers in the EU are exposed to higher levels of fine dust pollution than is acceptable for health, as calculated by the non-profit Science Media Center for independent scientific reporting. Worldwide, the situation was even worse: According to WHO information, more than 90 percent of the world’s population lives in areas that have exceeded the WHO limit values for fine dust (PM 2.5) from 2005. The EU will adjust its air quality standards in the coming year.
Nitrogen dioxide values in Germany above the limit value
According to the Federal Environment Agency in Dessau, an annual average of 83 percent of all measuring stations in Germany determined a nitrogen dioxide value above the new WHO limit value in 2020. In the case of fine dust with a particle size of PM10, it was 36 percent, and in the case of PM 2.5 a full 99 percent.
Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said that the air quality in Germany had improved in recent years. “Still, there is still a lot to do.” In the next few years, improvements in particulate matter would be achieved primarily through the phase-out of coal, the switch to less intensive agriculture and the turnaround in traffic towards more electromobility. “By 2030, Germany wants to significantly reduce air pollutant emissions,” said Schulze.
“The WHO’s new Air Quality Guidelines are a big step forward, as they provide benchmarks that are capable of effectively protecting the health of the population”, praised the head of the Institute for Epidemiology at the Helmholtz Zentrum München, Annette Peters. “All of these values are derived from major new studies.”
High medical costs can be avoided
It is clear that there is no “harmless air pollution”, said Barbara Hoffmann, from the Institute for Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine at the University of Düsseldorf. “From this it can be deduced that the air must be reduced everywhere – even where it is already relatively low. This is also worth the cost, because the disease caused by air pollution is higher than the cost of air pollution control. “
die WHO guidelines also contain recommendations for ozone (O3), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and carbon monoxide (CO). They are not binding, but serve as guidelines for countries and associations of states such as the EU. “Air pollution hits people hardest in low- and middle-income countries,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
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