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The WHO’s New Air Quality Guidelines: By the Numbers

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The World Health Organization (WHO) released new air quality guidelines in 2021, with the aim of providing people and governments with a better understanding of the impact of air pollution.

The last time these guidelines were updated was in 2005. Since then, there have been large changes in how scientists measure and understand air pollution and its impact on human lives.

Here’s a look at the updated guidelines in six areas of air quality, with the numbers indicating what the WHO views as an acceptable level of exposure:

Air Quality Parameter Common Sources 2021 Guidelines 2005 Guidelines % Change

PM2.5, µg/m3 (particulate matter,  diameter equal to or less than 2.5 μm)

Annual exposure

Exhaust from automobiles; burning wood and coal; tobacco smoke; cooking 5 10 -50%

PM10, µg/m3 (particulate matter,  diameter equal to or less than 10 μm)

Annual exposure

Dust; fire smoke; sea salt; industrial exhaust 15 20 -40%

O3, µg/m3 (ozone)

Peak season exposure (warm weather)

Harmful at ground level; present in smog; exhaust reacting with sunlight 60 N/A New parameter

NO2, µg/m3 (nitrogen dioxide)

Annual exposure

Exhaust from automobiles; burning wood and coal; tobacco smoke; cooking 10 40 -75%

SO2, µg/m3 (sulfur dioxide)

24-hr exposure

Fossil fuel combustion at power plants, refineries, and other industrial facilities 40 20 +100%

CO, mg/m3 (carbon monoxide)

24-hr exposure

Exhaust from automobiles; stoves; grills; lanterns; other heat sources 4 4 Unchanged


Global Impact of Air Pollution

These health-based air quality guidelines are meant to help governments create laws and regulations that will reduce the exposure of their citizens to the adverse effects of air pollution.

A 2018 study found that air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels was responsible for 8.7 million deaths that year around the world. And part of the WHO findings show that while air quality has mostly gotten better in high-income countries, it has generally gotten worse in low- and middle-income countries.

As you’ll notice, most of the parameters have become more strict since the last guidelines were released. This indicates a better understanding of the large impact air pollution can have on health and wellness, and should push laws and regulations toward lowering the levels of these pollutants globally.

In addition to improving life expectancy for people, reducing the main producers of these pollutants (like burning fossil fuels) could also slow the impact of climate change.

Air Quality in Your Home

Voting and purchasing decisions are two areas where you can have a say in lowering air pollution. More directly, you can take steps in your home to ensure you and your family have access to Healthy Air.

The AprilAire Healthy Air System® is a comprehensive, all-in-one solution that provides a blueprint for creating a Healthy Home environment in three key areas: fresh air ventilation, air filtration, and humidity control.

1. Fresh air ventilation: Fresh air ventilation removes stale, stagnant air from your home and replaces it with fresh air from the outdoors.

2. Air filtration: Air filtration works with your home’s HVAC system to remove harmful particles like dust mites, pet dander, pollen, and mold spores from the air circulating in your home.

3. Humidity control: AprilAire whole-house humidifiers and dehumidifiers keep the humidity level of your home between 40% and 60% for optimal health and comfort.

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