While earlier concentration of PM 2.5 of 25 micrograms per cubic metre was deemed safe, the new guidelines have brought down the permissible levels to concentration of 15 micrograms.
In a significant bearing on the issue of pollution, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has lowered the bar of pollution levels and released more stringent air quality guidelines for places that can be considered safe for human health. Significantly, in tune with the new WHO guidelines, almost all parts of India can be deemed polluted as the air quality levels are worse than the permissible limits prescribed by the WHO throughout the year.
While earlier concentration of PM 2.5 of 25 micrograms per cubic metre was deemed safe, the new guidelines have brought down the permissible levels to concentration of 15 micrograms, the Indian Express reported.
The existing norms of WHO, which worked as a yardstick for policy makers and governments battling air pollution, had been in place since the year 2005. As per the new guidelines, the health body has brought down the permissible levels of air quality for all the pollution constituents namely- PM2.5, PM10, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide , and carbon monoxide- among others. Most air pollution is caused by the listed constituents and they are responsible for a host of pollution-borne diseases including respiratory illness, burning sensation in eyes, skin, among others. According to the estimates of WHO, nearly 70 lakh people succumb every year to the problem of air pollution.
The WHO is understood to have taken into consideration new studies and research on the issue of air pollution conducted in recent years while formulating more stringent air quality guidelines. As per the new guidelines, almost the entire region of India can be deemed polluted throughout the year, however India is not alone in this regard.
As per WHO, more than 90 percent of the world’s population lived in areas that did not meet the air quality guidelines released in the year 2005. With more stringent guidelines in place now, the number of people inhabiting polluted spaces is expected to go substantially beyond the 90 percent mark.
It is pertinent to note that countries have the liberty to decide for themselves the permissible air quality guidelines as the WHO guidelines are not enforceable and merely work as an advisory. India’s air quality guidelines are much relaxed in comparison to the WHO standards. India recommends the concentration of PM2.5 of upto 60 micrograms per cubic metre over a 24-hour period for an area to be termed as pollution free in contrast to the 25 microgram limit set by the WHO 2005 guidelines. Even the lower standards set by the Indian government are flouted every year as several metropolitan cities report severe pollution in the run up to the winter months including Delhi, NCR, Mumbai, Kolkata, Gwalior among others. Indian cities dominate and stand on the worst ranks in a number of studies on air pollution. As per a Greenpeace study, the average concentration of PM2.5 was about 17 times higher in Delhi, eight times higher in Mumbai, nine times higher in Kolkata and over five times higher in Chennai than the recommended levels.
Pune-based Dr Sundeep Salvi who is a respiratory diseases expert told the Indian Express that Indian standards of air quality levels are in severe need of revision. S N Tripathi, who is a professor at IIT-Kanpur and a member of the steering committee of India’s National Clean Energy Programme told the Indian Express that apart from revising the air quality standards India should also strengthen the health data and conduct comprehensive studies on the impact of air pollution on the people of the country.