The World Health Organization says tighter restrictions on air pollution could save lives. For the first time, the world health body is issuing global Air Quality Guidelines to raise awareness that pollution is an environmental concern that poses a serious health threat.
This is the first time the World Health Organization is issuing air pollution standards for all regions of the world.
The World Health Organization says reducing levels of one particular type of pollutant, known as particulate matter, could significantly cut deaths in polluted cities. Other major pollutants include ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide.
WHO Director for Public Health and the Environment Maria Neira says these air pollutants have a serious impact on health.
"If we look at what are the health problems caused by those air pollutants, we have to look at infectious respiratory infections, heart diseases and lung cancer, in particular," she said. "I am sure you all heard about asthma and chronic respiratory infections that are caused by those pollutants."
The World Health Organization says in many cities the annual levels of particulate matter exceed 70 micrograms per cubic meter. The new guidelines advise the level should be lower than 20 micrograms per cubic meter.
Neira says adherence to the new guidelines would mark a significant improvement in overall health.
"If we apply those various strict standards on air pollutants, our health can gain a lot," she said. "Concretely, we are convinced that we can reduce the mortality by 15 percent, if those standards that we are presenting here today are applied."
The World Health Organization says more than half of the approximately two million premature deaths attributed to air pollution occur in developing countries. The report says air pollution is very high in a number of Asian cities, such as Karachi, New Delhi, Katmandu and Beijing. It also lists Lima, Peru, and Cairo.
But, the report says, even European and North American cities suffer from dirty air, and need to clean up their act.
WHO Regional Adviser for Air Quality Michal Krzyanowski says countries reliant on polluting fossil fuels need to look at alternative sources of energy and fuel.
"We need to go for clean combustion and no emission technology, or low-emission technologies," he said.
The World Health Organization says many countries around the world do not have regulations on air pollution. It says governments have neglected this public health issue far too long.