22 September 2021
Asthma , COPD
PREVENT, - Air Quality

22/09/2021, Brussels (Belgium) - The new WHO Ambient Air Quality Guidelines (AAQG) launched today set out an urgent need to take action to protect the health of patients with allergy and respiratory diseases. The European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients’ Associations (EFA) welcomes the updated guidelines which recommend recommend new air quality levels for 5 monitored pollutants out of 32, the so-called classical pollutants: particulate matter (PM₂.₅ and PM₁₀), ozone (O₃), nitrogen dioxide (NO₂), sulphur dioxide (SO₂) and carbon monoxide (CO). The new recommended levels to protect our health render the current air quality legislation in Europe now obsolete.

With such strong scientific evidence as the foundation to the guidelines, governments can no longer be complacent with pollution, climate change, and its devastating impact on our health. Ambient air pollution causes nearly 500,000 deaths in Europe annually, and approximately 452,400 premature deaths in the EU alone (1). It also causes serious and lasting damage to respiratory health, even with low-level exposure to pollutants especially for those already ill.

Carla Jones, President of EFA, gave the patient view on the updated guidelines with: “The updated Ambient Air Quality Guidelines must act as a wakeup call for Europe and translate into urgent action. The dramatic health effects of air pollution in our bodies and lungs should not be neglected for the sake of the economy. Patients, who have been especially vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic, want to see government action that provides us with safe air to breathe. All upcoming legislation on air quality, starting with the revision of the EU Ambient Air Quality Directives, should be fully aligned with WHO findings to protect our health and livelihoods.

EFA is thankful for the strong methodology WHO has applied revising these guidelines. The steps to be taken to meet the resulting recommendations must include increasing public awareness and access to accurate and timely air quality information that is harmonised across Europe, with the links between air pollution and adverse health outcomes clear.

As a member of the WHO External Review Group of the guidelines (ERG), EFA looks forward to continuing working hand in hand with WHO Europe, the public and the health sector to inform other sectors and policy-makers about the updated guidelines and move towards cleaner, healthier air.”

The first opportunity will be COP26 taking place in Glasgow in November, where Europe must affirm its commitment to the planet as climate leaders, and its accountability to the populations as advocates for health. Health effects or air pollution should be full part of climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies. Even the short-term effects of exposure to air pollution are dangerous for patients with existing respiratory conditions, as it leads to the worsening of disease symptoms.

Air quality discussions will also populate the EU level agenda, and institutions and Member States will have the opportunity show leadership, adopt, apply, and enforce air quality legislation nationally. EFA and the patients we represent expect that the revision of the EU Air Quality Directives will establish stronger air quality monitoring systems and the possibility for people to access accurate information about the quality of the air they breathe real time and take action for themselves.

Prenatal and early-life exposure to air pollution has been proven to undermine lung function and lead to asthma in children. It is also a key factor to the development of allergic rhinitis and other allergic disorders of the respiratory system. Not surprisingly, people living with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are particularly vulnerable: the latest evidence contained in the Guidelines shows a strong link between exposure to air pollution and increased disease exacerbations, hospitalisations, visits to the emergency room and, sadly, deaths. To those patients, exposure to air pollution also push patients to increase the use of medication to control their disease symptoms, which comes at an economic cost (2).

Notes to editors:

The European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients’ Associations (EFA) is the voice of over 200 million people living with allergy, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in Europe. We bring together 39 national associations from 25 countries and channel their knowledge and demands to the European institutions. We connect European stakeholders to ignite change and bridge the policy gaps on allergy and airways diseases so that patients live uncompromised lives, have the right and access to the best quality care and a safe environment.

For more information contact EFA Communications and Policy Officer:

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. +32 (0) 2 227 1106 


Reference list:

(1) European Environment Agency, Air quality in Europe 2020 report:

(2) A.M. Williams, D. J. Phaneuf, M. A. Barrett, J. G. Su, Short-term impact of PM 2.5 on contemporaneous asthma medication use: Behavior and the value of pollution reductions, 2018: