Looking for fresh air? Don’t hold your breath.
Nearly every human on the planet — a staggering 99% — breathes air that does not meet quality standards set by global health officials.
The new data comes from a survey of over 6,000 municipalities in more than 100 countries across the world, according to an update from the World Health Organization on Monday, which recently tightened its guidelines for air quality as it hopes to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels for energy.
Pollution stemming from the combustion of coal, crude oil and natural gas is known to cause short- and long-term respiratory illnesses, such as coughing, wheezing and chronic asthma, and may be linked to other diseases.
These toxic particles are “capable of penetrating deep into the lungs and entering the bloodstream, causing cardiovascular, cerebrovascular (stroke) and respiratory impacts,” WHO said. “There is emerging evidence that particulate matter impacts other organs and causes other diseases as well.”
Some areas have recently shown levels of atmospheric dust that were three to four times over WHO’s minimum standard of 50 micrograms per square meter.
Air quality is worst in the eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asia regions, followed by many in Africa. Nevertheless, no nation on earth has managed to achieve WHO’s recommended limit of hazardous airborne particles — no more than 5 micrograms per cubic meter — while only 3.4% of individual cities surveyed met the goal, according to recent data compiled by Swiss air quality monitoring group IQAir.
“After surviving a pandemic, it is unacceptable to still have 7 million preventable deaths and countless preventable lost years of good health due to air pollution,” said Dr. Maria Neira, director of WHO’s Department of Public Health and Environment, in Monday’s statement. “Yet too many investments are still being sunk into a polluted environment rather than in clean, healthy air.”