U researchers find that World Health Organization air quality guidelines work

by Ellen Schmidt

Researchers at the University of Minnesota and other institutions found that by following the World Health Organizations guidelines for air quality, two million annual deaths could be avoided.


By following the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines instead of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines,  a team of environmental engineering and public health researchers found that 2.1 million pollution-related deaths can be prevented each year.


According to a press release about the study, 3.2 million lives are claimed annually by outdoor particulate air pollution. The findings of the study indicated that following the WHO’s guidelines can benefit areas both with heavily polluted and not polluted air, such as North America and Western Europe.


The researchers, including UMN College of Science and Engineering associate professor and co-author Julian Marshall, published their findings yesterday in Environmental Science & Technology — a model that looked at how changes in outdoor pollution can affect public health, examining changes in health problems such as heart attack, stroke, and lung cancer.


Outdoor air pollution from particulate matter (PM), the team’s focus, is associated with greater risk of health problems. PM comes from many sources of pollution, including coal, vehicles, production emissions, and fires.


While other research has examined the health impacts of  breathing polluted air, this is the first to analyze how and where modifying air quality can improve health.


“We were surprised to find the importance of cleaning air not just in the dirtiest parts of the world—which we expected to find—but also in cleaner environments like the U.S., Canada and Europe,” said Marshall in a statement.