The World Health Organization called on governments Thursday to improve air quality in their cities, saying air pollution prematurely kills two million people a year, with more than half the deaths in developing countries.
Reducing pollution from particles that are too small to be filtered in the nose and throat and settle in the lungs could save as many as 300,000 lives every year, according to a statement issued by the WHO's regional office in Manila.
Reducing levels of those extremely small particles — caused primarily by the burning of fossil and other types of fuel — could cut the deaths from air pollution by about 15 percent, said Maria Neira, the WHO director for public health and the environment.
It also could cut the global burden of disease from respiratory infections, heart disease and lung cancer, she said.
Particulate matter pollution is considered the biggest health risk. But the WHO Air Quality Guidelines also recommended lowering the daily allowed limits for ozone.
That represents a challenge especially for developing countries with numerous sunny days when ozone concentrations reach the highest levels, causing respiratory problems and asthma attacks, WHO said. The guidelines also cut the sulfur dioxide limits.
Many countries around the world do not have regulations for air pollution, which makes control virtually impossible.
WHO said the new guidelines, which were established after worldwide consultation with more than 80 leading scientists, provide the basis for all countries to build their own air quality standards and policies supporting health.