Nearly 93% of India’s population was living in areas with PM2.5 levels worse than the World Health Organization’s new air quality standards, according to a new global report. The report also found that air pollution reduced life expectancy in India by 1.5 years — higher than the reduction from all cancers (1.39 years). Last year, the World Health Organization last year tightened its air quality standards. The United Nations health agency lowered to 5 micrograms per cubic meters the safe annual average PM2.5 exposure level from the earlier 10 micrograms per cubic meters.
It also lowered the recommended safe exposure levels of other common air pollutants. The World Health Organization had said the move was based on mounting evidence suggesting air pollution had greater health impacts than previously known.
Following the revision, US-based Health Effects Institute released two special assessment reports on how the world fared on these new standards in 2019, the year for which data is available.
The report found that no country was meeting the new recommended standards for average annual exposure levels, an indication that almost 100% of the global population lived in areas where PM2.5 levels exceeded World Health Organization recommendations.
Realising the difficulty for countries to meet the new exposure standards, the global health agency also recommended four interim targets that progressively improve air quality levels.
The most relaxed target recommends 35 micrograms per cubic meters as an annual average air quality standard. The other three brackets prescribe 25, 15 and 10 micrograms per cubic meters as recommended levels. Only 25 countries meet the recommendation for 10 micrograms per cubic meters level.
In India, the average PM2.5 exposure level is more than 80 micrograms per cubic meters. However, several areas, especially large cities and metropolises such as Delhi, have air quality much worse than the levels recommended.