People of Warsaw could on average live another year if WHO guidelines were met. Photo: © Piotr Szczepankiewicz/

Global PM pollution cuts life short

Across the world, 6.3 billion people – 82 per cent of the global population – live in areas where levels of PM2.5 exceed the World Health Organization’s guideline1 of 10 μg/m3. The average global citizen is exposed to concentrations of 32 μg/m3, i.e. over 3 times the WHO’s guideline. If this level of particulate pollution persists, the health consequences of air pollution could shave 2.2 years off global life expectancy compared to a world in which all countries met the WHO guideline. In other words, permanently reducing air pollution to the WHO guideline could increase global average life expectancy and the world’s population could gain 17 billion life-years.

According to the annual update of the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), in terms of life expectancy, particulate pollution is the world’s greatest threat to human health. South Asia is consistently the most polluted region, with people there living 5 years less on average than they would if the region met the WHO guideline – and even more in the most polluted parts of the region like northern India.
Nearly three-quarters of Europeans, including the entire populations of Poland, Belarus, Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, Armenia, Moldova, Cyprus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, live in areas where particulate pollution exceeds the maximum recommended by the WHO. In 2019 the average European was exposed to a particulate pollution concentration of 12.2 μg/m3. If the WHO guideline was to be met, average life expectancy across Europe would improve by 4 months.

Poland is the most polluted country in Europe, and people in Warsaw and Silesia would gain 1.2–1.3 years from better air quality below the WHO guideline. Outside of Eastern Europe, high pollution persists in areas such as Italy’s Po Valley, including the city of Milan, as well as the industrial centre of Bursa in Turkey. In Milan and Bursa, residents would gain 10 months and 1.4 years, respectively, if pollution levels met the WHO recommendation.

Source: Air Quality Life Index Annual Update (September 2021).
1This text reffers to the old WHO guidlines



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