The World Health Organization (WHO) released its guidelines on air pollution levels this week. These guidelines, the last edition of which were approved in 2005, are the only globally scientifically recognized recommendations on air quality, compliance with which significantly reduces risks to people. The new guidelines are much stricter, demonstrating the extreme impact air pollution has on health, even at low levels. Thus, the recommended annual concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a toxic pollutant whose main source in cities is motorized traffic, has risen from 40 to 10 µg / m3 (micrograms per cubic meter). For its part, the annual guide for particles below 2.5 microns (PM2.5) -the most harmful to health- drops from 10 to 5 µg / m3, when the regulations allow 20 µg / m3.
The data show that all Spanish cities currently exceed the new air quality guidelines established by the WHO, despite the sharp drop in their levels in 2020 due to the measures to combat COVID-19. Among these cities is Santa Cruz de Tenerife, in which, taking as a reference the last year without confinements (2019), NO2 levels doubled the new WHO guideline for this same pollutant. At least that is how it is reflected by the Ecologistas en Acción entity, which analyzes the new values established by the WHO.
According to the air quality data of the Government of the Canary Islands for 2019, the NO2 values in the capital were above the new WHO values in all measuring stations. NO2 causes around 7,000 premature deaths each year in Spain, according to the Carlos III Health Institute and the European Environment Agency. It is an irritant gas that causes respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lowers resistance to infection.