INTERVIEW: WHO public health director on new air pollution rules

Dr Maria Neira, WHO director of public health

The World Health Organization (WHO) has unveiled drastically lower recommended limits for harmful air pollutants in order to protect public health. In this interview, Dr Maria Neira, the WHO’s director of public health, environment and social determinants of health, urges the EU to be “ambitious” with its own limits too.

The EU will embark on the revision of its own air pollution limits next year, when the European Commission will propose reviewing the Ambient Air Quality Directive as part of its green deal. The directive sets maximum levels for 13 key pollutants, which the Commission plans to align to the WHO recommendations.

At present EU limits for air pollution are far less ambitious than what the WHO suggests. Despite that, the Commission has been in a permanent legal battle with EU member states that do not comply – including Greece, France, Hungary and Italy.

In 2019, 16 EU countries exceeded the EU daily limit for particulate matter (PM10), four exceeded the annual limit of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), 19 that of ozone and 18 that of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), the European Environment Agency (EEA) stated this week. Is there much point in further reducing the legal values if EU member states do not even comply with the current ones?

Decidedly “yes”, says Neira, because member states “need to be confronted with their lack of responsibility”.

“If you know that those are the recommendations and you still don’t endorse them, and the monitoring tells you that you are breaking the rules, this has a price. The price is the number of lives that you are putting at risk and the years of healthy life you are reducing for the population,” she says…

Continue reading on ENDS Europe, a news services specialised in EU environmental affairs, published on 24 September 2021.

Photo courtesy WHO