(CN) - The World Health Organization urged the EU to set higher limits on fine particulate pollution, citing evidence that long-term exposure can trigger chronic health conditions and higher mortality rates.
Fine particulate pollution, or PM2.5, describes particulate matter no larger than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, making it one-30th the diameter of a human hair.
While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first issued standards for fine particulate pollution in 1997, the European Union did not adopt its own standards until 2008.
The European Union's current limit for PM2.5, an annual mean of 25 micrograms per cubic meter (mcg/m3), is more than twice as high as the World Health Organization's (WHO) annual recommendation of 10 mcg/m3.
In the United States, the EPA recently strengthened its annual air quality standard from 15 mcg/m3 to 12 mcg/m3. It retained a 24-hour fine particulate standard of 35 ¼g/m3, and will give states until 2020 to meet the revised PM2.5 health standard.
This new standard ducked the D.C. Circuit's remand of two rules concerning fine particulates in early January.
The European Commission had asked the World Health Organization to review fine particulates for EU air policy.
Janez Potocnik, an EU commissioner for environment, hopes that the report will help make 2013 the "Year of Air" for the EU.
"EU air policy must be based on the latest science," he said in a statement. "That is why I asked the WHO to undertake this research. The links it has found between air pollution and human health reinforce the case for scaling up our policy: it will be a key input to the 2013 air quality policy review."
Over 80 percent of Europeans are exposed to fine particulate pollution above the 2005 World Health Organization's air quality guidelines, which deprives the average citizen of 8.6 months of life, the group reported.
The EPA's review of health studies in 1997 made similar findings.
"Health studies have shown a significant association between exposure to fine particles and premature death from heart or lung disease," the EPA concluded.
"Fine particles can aggravate heart and lung diseases and have been linked to effects such as: cardiovascular symptoms; cardiac arrhythmias; heart attacks; respiratory symptoms; asthma attacks; and bronchitis. These effects can result in increased hospital admissions, emergency room visits, absences from school or work, and restricted activity days. Individuals that may be particularly sensitive to fine particle exposure include people with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children."
The World Health Organization also found new evidence for the long-term effects of ozone and nitrogen dioxide on mortality.
The EU has stronger standards than the U.S. for both ozone and nitrogen dioxide levels, but neither meets the WHO's recommended levels.
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