Time to harmonize national ambient air quality standards

Int J Public Health. 2017 May;62(4):453-462. doi: 10.1007/s00038-017-0952-y. Epub 2017 Feb 27.


Objectives: The World Health Organization has developed ambient air quality guidelines at levels considered to be safe or of acceptable risk for human health. These guidelines are meant to support governments in defining national standards. It is unclear how they are followed.

Methods: We compiled an inventory of ambient air quality standards for 194 countries worldwide for six air pollutants: PM2.5, PM10, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide. We conducted literature and internet searches and asked country representatives about national ambient air quality standards.

Results: We found information on 170 countries including 57 countries that did not set any air quality standards. Levels varied greatly by country and by pollutant. Ambient air quality standards for PM2.5, PM10 and SO2 poorly complied with WHO guideline values. The agreement was higher for CO, SO2 (10-min averaging time) and NO2.

Conclusions: Regulatory differences mirror the differences in air quality and the related burden of disease around the globe. Governments worldwide should adopt science based air quality standards and clean air management plans to continuously improve air quality locally, nationally, and globally.

Keywords: Air pollution; Air quality; Limit values; Particulate matter; Policy; Standards.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / standards*
  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Carbon Monoxide / analysis
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Environmental Monitoring / standards*
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Nitrogen Dioxide / analysis
  • Ozone / analysis
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • Sulfur Dioxide / analysis
  • Time Factors


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter
  • Sulfur Dioxide
  • Ozone
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Nitrogen Dioxide