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Explained: WHO's new air quality norms and what they mean for India

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While WHO's new guidelines are stricter than the old ones, India's own national limits are nowhere near even the more lenient older standards. For example, India's recommended PM2.5 concentration over a 24-hour period is 60 micrograms per cubic metre, compared to 25 micrograms advised by WHO’s 2005 norms. But even these lower standards are hardly met.

Explained: WHO's new air quality norms and what they mean for India
The World Health Organization (WHO) has updated its guidelines on air pollution 15 years after they were first published. The guidelines have suggested new limits on air pollutants for governments across the world to adopt at a national level.
Nearly seven million deaths every year can now be attributed to diseases that are directly related to air pollution, according to WHO estimates. Studies estimate that over 40 percent of Indians can lose up to nine years of life expectancy as a result of air pollution.
The guidelines 
The updated guidelines cover what should be acceptable levels of four of the most common and dangerous air pollutants in the atmosphere -- PM2.5, PM10, ozone nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide.
Highlighting the significant loss of life due to air pollution, the guidelines set new markers for governments to base their national level limits on pollutants.
"Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats to human health, alongside climate change. Improving air quality can enhance climate change mitigation efforts while reducing emissions that will, in turn, improve air quality," WHO said in a statement.
What’s new? 
The safe limit for particulate pollutants has been slashed to half of what the older guidelines suggested. The suggested limits for other pollutants have also been lowered. According to the new standards, the PM2.5 average annual concentrations should be less than 5 micrograms per meter cube.
Particulate pollutants are tiny suspended pollutant matter in the air that are small enough to be absorbed through the lungs and enter the circulatory system.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), exposure to PM2.5 and PM10 pollution causes premature death in people with heart or lung diseases, heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, asthma, decreased lung function, and increased respiratory symptoms.
Studies have also shown that even small exposure to air pollution is a large risk factor for diseases like cancer, pulmonary disease, and stroke.
What does this mean for India?
According to a University of Chicago's Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) report, India is the most polluted country in the world. Over 480 million individuals who reside in the Indo-Gangetic plains face pollution levels that are unmatched in the rest of the world. The capital city of Delhi is particularly notorious for being so polluted that the AQI often hits 999, the worst possible.
While the new guidelines have changed the previous suggested limits, India's own national limits have been lenient compared to WHO's older guidelines. For example, the recommended PM2.5 concentration over a 24-hour period is 60 micrograms per cubic metre, compared to 25 micrograms advised by WHO’s 2005 guidelines. But even these lower standards are hardly met.
The new guidelines mean that almost all of India would be considered a polluted zone on most days.
But the effect is not just on health, air pollution impacts the economy as well.
The Clean Air Fund and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) recently said in their report that air pollution costs Indian businesses $95 billion every fiscal year, equivalent roughly to 50 percent of tax collected annually.
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