ELF supports the launch of the WHO air quality guidelines

We are proud to have been part of the development of the New World Health Organization (WHO) Global Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs) and wholeheartedly welcome their launch. The guidelines provide clear evidence of the damage air pollution inflicts on human health, at even lower levels than we once thought. The guidelines recommend new air quality levels to protect everybody’s health, particularly people living with lung conditions.

Since WHO’s last 2005 global update, there has been a large increase in the amount of evidence showing how air pollution affects different aspects of health. For that reason, WHO has reduced almost all the recommended maximum levels of air pollution in the AQGs.  They warn that exceeding the new air quality guideline levels is associated with significant risks to health. This means that sticking to them could save millions of lives and improve the quality of life of people living with lung conditions.

ELF and ERS, together with more than 100 patient organistions and societies have signed a statement supporting the guidelines and urging nations to implement ambitious clean air policies without delay, to protect health.


The statement urges policymakers to:
  • Revise clean air legislation to lower the permitted limit for PM2.5 (particulate matter, fine particles or droplets in the air that we breathe in) and NO2 (nitrogen dioxide, caused by burning fossil fuels such as in cars and power stations) in air pollution hot spots and match them closely with the WHO AQGs 2021.
  • Gradually lower the exposure to air pollution of the entire population. Continuously reduce the average pollution levels in all places (not just the pollution hot spots) by creating fixed upper limits with binding legal policies.
  • Invest in clean air policies to protect and improve public health. This means investing, implementing and monitoring these policies and working towards climate neutrality. Climate neutrality is a state where the total global carbon emissions are equal to or less than the amount the planet can reabsorb.


Dominique Hamerlijnck from The Netherlands has severe hyperresponsive asthma, and is a patient advocate in the Longfonds and European Lung Foundation asthma patient advisory group. Ms Hamerlijnck explained how air pollution has a devastating impact on her life:

“One of the main triggers for my asthma is air pollution. Breathing takes so much effort that I’m able to do very little beside breathing on a daily basis. I take the maximum dose of my medications, but this is not enough to be able to do necessary daily activities, let alone being able to work or see people. The effort it takes to breathe every day makes my breathing muscles overburdened and I am constantly in pain.

“We cannot avoid air – it is necessary for survival – and we need cleaner air to keep people safe, healthy, and able to participate in society. I hope we achieve cleaner air soon; I would like to be able to leave my house more often and enjoy the outside world.”


Elf Chair and asthma patient, Kjeld Hansen advises that:

“We must protect the health of those living with lung conditions, the public and the environment from the harmful effects of air pollution. Governments and organisations must act urgently on the 2021 WHO AQGs and put in place pioneering, clean air policies to protect us all.”


Patient organisations and co-signatories

A huge thank you to the patient organisations and co-signatories of the statement supporting the guidelines. We are glad to share some of their thoughts below:

“As a patient organization, we know how important it is to breathe fresh air because it is very important for the future lung health of people around the world. Bulgaria is one of the countries with poor air quality which affects the number of people living with lung diseases which is nearly 500,000 people out of a population of 7 million.”

Natalia Maeva, President of BSPPH


“It is very worrying that not enough is being done to improve air quality. It is even more distressing for those who have a life-limiting progressive and incurable illness like pulmonary fibrosis. Having to deal with this dreadful illness is bad enough without also being subjected to poor air quality. More must be done and now.”

Peter Bruce, Pulmonary Fibrosis Trust Chair


“When the air you breathe is already becoming scarce due to a disease, you feel any worsening of the remaining air you still manage to breathe. Whether it’s smoke, dust or particulate matter, the better the air, the better we patients feel about living with it.”

Marion Wilkens, Alpha 1 Deutschland e.V.


ERS event

We would also like to kindly invite you to the ERS event on the new WHO Air Quality Guidelines taking place Wednesday 22nd September 17:00 – 18:00 CEST. More information about the event and registration can be found here.

The event has now taken place. The reording can be found on the ERS Respiratory Channel.