Press Release - September 23, 2021

WHO clean air guidelines a call for action to protect health

Health advocates have called for the immediate adoption of new World Health
Organization (WHO) clean air guidelines by every federal, state and territory, and
local government in Australia, pointing to thousands of lives and billions of dollars in
health costs that could be gained through cleaner air.

The WHO released updated and stronger guidelines overnight drawing on the latest
body of epidemiological research on the health risks of air pollution, the costs of
which are estimated at around $16 billion annually for Australia. In Australia, air
pollution is estimated to cause between 2,616 and 4,884 premature deaths

Australia’s current air pollution standards are significantly weaker than the WHO
guidelines, resulting in poor air quality contributing to the avoidable loss of thousands
of lives each year, contributing to increased deaths from coronary heart disease and
a range of respiratory conditions including lung cancer, and an increase in children
being hospitalised with asthma each year.

Australian standards for coarse and fine particle pollution have not been updated
since 2015.

Research published in the Australian and NZ Journal of Public Health showed that a
25% reduction in exposure to nitrogen dioxide, a gaseous irritant, from current
values across NSW would lead to between 2597 and 12,286 fewer children
developing asthma in that state.

Professor Yuming Guo, Head of Monash University Climate, Air Quality Research Unit.

Australia’s current air quality standards are woefully inadequate, according to
experts, and should be updated to reflect this latest guidance as soon as possible.
“Just as health advice has saved countless lives from the pandemic, the World
Health Organization’s new clean air guidelines can save lives and prevent incidence
of chronic diseases from air pollution, the world’s biggest environmental cause of
death and disease."

EJA Lawyer Bronya Lipski

“We need health-based pollution laws. Australia ought to update its ambient air
standards to reflect health-based ambient air quality standards such as those
determined by the WHO. Each state and territory has the legal power to make health-based pollution standards, regardless of the national standard."

Asthma Australia CEO Michele Goldman said:

“People with asthma are the canaries in the coalmine when it comes to air pollution
and the impact on them can be immediate, ranging from respiratory symptoms to
asthma flare ups which result in hospitalisation and even death. We welcome the strengthened WHO guidelines and call on Australian governments to enact stronger air quality standards to protect people with asthma.”

Lung Foundation CEO Mark Brooke said:

“We know that air quality greatly influences lung function, and currently there are 7
million Australians living with a lung condition which can be worsened or caused by
poor air quality. Lung conditions have a marked effect on people’s ability to enjoy life, be active, be productive and realize their full potential, so we encourage action that will protect

Epidemiologist and spokesperson for Doctors for the Environment Australia

“Nationally, the prevalence of thousands of asthma cases in Australia could be
prevented every year by meeting the new WHO guidelines, which would significantly
reduce harms caused by motor vehicles and electricity generation. The good news is that by tackling air pollution, we can not only protect health now but reduce the causes of climate change.”