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News 21 February 2024

Roundup: Air quality news February 2024

From the EU’s deal for improving air quality standards to preventing suicides in China, here’s your roundup of the latest news and views on air pollution.
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99% of the global population is exposed to air that is harmful to our health, environment and economies. It doesn’t have to be this way. Sharing knowledge and learning is crucial to strengthening the clean air movement. Here we explore the latest news articles, research, opinions and efforts to tackle air pollution around the world.

EU strikes deal to strengthen air quality standards  

EU negotiators have reached a provisional political agreement on the revised Ambient Air Quality Directive (AAQD). The revision seeks to bring EU air quality standards towards the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations. This is an important first step towards protecting the most vulnerable in European society from harmful air pollution. The negotiated text still needs to be formally adopted by the European Parliament and European Council to become EU law. 

Delaying EU air pollution limits could result in hundreds of thousands more early deaths and ‘widen the inequality gap’, warn respiratory scientists. “Every year of delay of reaching limit values directly translates into more death and disease,” warned Barbara Hoffman, the chair of the European Respiratory Society (ERS) advocacy. 

Efforts to improve air quality in China helped prevent over 45,000 suicides

A study analysing air quality data and suicide reports in China adds to growing evidence linking air pollution and suicide. Researchers found that efforts to tackle air pollution launched a decade ago, helped prevent an estimated 45,970 suicides from 2013 to 2017.

Economic cost of clean air inaction in Europe

The economic and health costs of delaying stricter air quality directives outweigh the cost of clean air action, reveals the ISGlobal Barcelona Institute for Global Health in a new policy brief. “The economic implications are large, with monetary costs resulting from reduced life expectancy, illness, lost productivity and damage to ecosystems amounting to more than 5% of the GDP in many countries”, authors warn.

Stricter air pollution standards in the US set to prevent 4,500 premature deaths

Announced earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is rolling out stricter air quality standards targeting pollution from power plants, industrial facilities and vehicles. The EPA anticipates that the updated standards, which cuts the average limit of fine particulate pollution from 12 to 9 micrograms, will prevent 4,500 premature deaths, save 290,000 workdays, and generate up to $46 billion in net health benefits by 2032.

Better air quality in Oxford, UK, linked to 41% drop in adult asthma hospital stays  

Published in the BMJ, a recent study analysed the relationship between acute hospital admissions for asthma and air pollution levels in Oxford, UK, in 2020 during two lockdowns. Researchers revealed that “falling pollution levels strongly correlated with lower rates of acute asthma care provision for adult residents in the four postcodes in Oxford city, falling from 78 per 100k residents in 2015-19, to 46 per 100k residents, a reduction of 41%”.   

Air pollution is altering the smell of flowers and confusing insects  

A recent study reveals that air pollution is degrading the chemical compounds of flowers and changing their scent, affecting an insect’s ability to locate and identify flowers. Researchers have warned that this disruption may have significant implications for ecosystems and biodiversity.  

Making the vision of clean air a reality for the Global South 

“The vision of clean air can become a reality because we possess the knowledge, technology and resources to make a change,” shared Dr Soumya Swaminathan, former chief scientist at the World Health Organization, in a piece by Nikkei Asia. Dr Swaminathan is the co-chair of Our Common Air, a global commission bringing together diverse actors to “establish a pool of viable solutions”. For this initiative to succeed, Soumya outlines that three crucial elements need to come together: bridging science and action, recognising clean air action as climate action, and channelling funding into clean air.  

Africa needs better air quality data, warn experts 

Only 17 of the African Union’s 55 member stages carry out air quality monitoring. During a recent workshop on air quality monitoring in Ghana, experts warned  that it is “important to build a baseline… to compare the past and present”. With support from the US Department of State and Clean Air Fund, Afri-SET aims to train around 300 air quality professionals and students on low-cost air sensors, installation, management and usage.  

New factsheet: Air pollution and health 

A new State of Global Air factsheet by the Health Effects Institute maps the key health impacts of air pollution. The factsheet is currently available in English, French, Spanish, Hindi and Swahili. 

See more

Our Common Air

A global commission bringing together powerful voices to accelerate collective action on air pollution and ensure that the right to clean air can be realised by all.