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Only 5% of countries' Air meet WHO PM2.5 guidelines

Only 5% of countries around the world are meeting the World Health Organization's (WHO) PM2.5 air pollution guidelines, according to the 5th Annual World Air Quality Report released by IQAir on March 14, 2023. The report analyzed data from over 30,000 air quality monitoring stations across 7,323 locations in 131 countries, territories, and regions. IQAir's air quality scientists found that of the 131 countries and regions analyzed, only six were meeting the WHO annual PM2.5 guideline value of 5 µg/m3 or less, which is an annual average.

Six countries met the WHO PM2.5 guideline (annual average of 5 µg/m3 or less): Australia, Estonia, Finland, Grenada, Iceland and New Zealand.

The top five most polluted countries in 2022 were Chad (89.7 µg/m3), Iraq (80.1 µg/m3), Pakistan (70.9 µg/m3), Bahrain (66.6 µg/m3), and Bangladesh (65.8 µg/m3). All five countries had levels of PM2.5 that were more than 13 times higher than the WHO annual guideline value. In total, 118 out of the 131 countries and regions analyzed exceeded the WHO annual PM2.5 guideline value of 5 µg/m3.

IQAir also found that while the African continent saw an increase from 13 countries represented in 2021 to 19 countries included in this year's report, Africa remains the most underrepresented continent. Only 19 countries out of 54 have sufficient air quality data. Additionally, the region of Central and South Asia was home to eight of the world's ten cities with the worst air pollution. Lahore was the most polluted metropolitan area of 2022, ranking 15th in 2021. Chile became home to eight of the region's top 15 most polluted cities.

In the United States, Coffeyville, Kansas was deemed the most polluted city, while Columbus, Ohio was the most polluted major city. California was home to 10 of the 15 most polluted cities in the country. However, Las Vegas was named the cleanest major city in the United States.

The report also revealed significant gaps in government-operated regulatory instrumentation in many parts of the world. While the number of countries and regions with air quality monitoring has steadily increased over the past five years, low-cost air quality monitors sponsored and hosted by citizen scientists, researchers, community advocates, and local organizations have proven to be a valuable tool to reduce the massive inequalities in air monitoring networks across the world, until sustainable regulatory air quality monitoring networks can be established.

Independent air quality monitoring stations reveal disproportional exposure to harmful air pollution among vulnerable and underrepresented groups. Glaring gaps in air quality monitoring data where pollution is likely poor further underline the need to expand air quality monitoring coverage worldwide.

"In 2022, more than half of the world's air quality data was generated by grassroots community efforts. When citizens get involved in air quality monitoring, we see a shift in awareness and the joint effort to improve air quality intensifies..." states Frank Hammes, Global CEO, IQAir.

"Too many people around the world don't know that they are breathing polluted air. Air pollution monitors provide hard data that can inspire communities to demand change and hold polluters to account, but when monitoring is patchy or unequal, vulnerable communities can be left with no data to act on. Everyone deserves to have their health protected from air pollution," states Aidan Farrow, Sr. Air Quality Scientist, Greenpeace International.

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