Early morning commuters make their way through fog and mist on a street in Lahore on January 3, 2023.
Arif Ali |: AFP |: Getty Images:
About 90% of the global population will experience unhealthy air quality in 2022, and only six countries will meet the World Health Organization’s recommendations for safe levels of air pollution, according to a new report from Swiss air quality technology company IQAir.
IQAir measured air quality levels based on the concentration of lung-damaging airborne particles known as PM 2.5. Research shows that exposure to such particles can lead to heart attacks, asthma attacks and premature death. Studies have also linked long-term exposure to PM 2.5 to higher death rates from Covid-19.
When the WHO first published air quality guidelines in 2005, it said the acceptable level of air pollution was less than 10 micrograms per cubic meter. In 2021, the WHO changed its guidelines to below 5 micrograms per cubic meter.
The report found that the top five most polluted countries in 2022 are Chad, Iraq, Pakistan, Bahrain and Bangladesh. The most polluted cities in the world are Lahore in Pakistan. Hotan, China; Bhiwadi, India; Delhi, India; and Peshawar, Pakistan.
Lahore’s air quality worsened to 97.4 micrograms of PM 2.5 particles per cubic meter in 2022, from 86.5 last year, making it the world’s most polluted city.
The report also said India and Pakistan suffered the worst air quality in the Central and South Asian region, with more than half of the population living in areas with concentrations of PM 2.5 particles around seven times the WHO recommended level.
In the US, the most polluted major cities were Columbus, Ohio, followed by Atlanta, Chicago, Indianapolis and Dallas. Air quality in Columbus reached 13.1 micrograms of PM 2.5 particles per cubic meter in 2020, making it the most polluted major city in the United States.
The Biden administration this year proposed limiting industrial particulate pollution from the current annual level of 12 micrograms per cubic meter to 9 to 10 micrograms per cubic meter. Some public health advocates criticized the proposal as not going far enough.
Only six countries met the WHO’s updated health restrictions: Australia, Estonia, Finland, Grenada, Iceland and New Zealand, the report said. The 2022 report used air quality data from more than 30,000 regulatory air quality monitoring stations and air quality sensors in 7,323 cities in 131 countries, regions and territories.
According to the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute, air pollution adds more than two years to the average life expectancy. 60 percent of air pollution comes from burning fossil fuels.
“Many people around the world are unaware that they are breathing polluted air,” Aidan Farrow, Greenpeace International’s senior air quality scientist, said in a statement.
“Air pollution monitors provide hard data that can inspire communities to demand change and hold polluters accountable, but when monitoring is patchy or uneven, vulnerable communities can be left without any data to act on,” Farrow said.