The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) has expressed concern that indoor air pollution caused or contributed to 99,000 deaths across Europe in 2012, as claimed in a report from two major UK health bodies.
The research carried out by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is unusual in that it makes direct reference to the impact of indoor air quality (IAQ) on human health and premature death rates.
Both colleges call for more specific research to be carried out to deepen understanding of the key risk factors associated with poor IAQ and its causes, but point out that it is already apparent that increased levels of airtightness are adding to a growing problem.
Indoor and outdoor air pollution causes at least 40,000 deaths a year in the UK and costs the economy £20 billion, according to the report – which also cites growing evidence of harm to children’s health and intelligence.
It points to emissions from faulty boilers, gas cookers and heaters, as well as irritant chemicals from new furniture, air fresheners and household cleaning products as contributing to rising health problems inside well-sealed buildings. House-dust mites, mould and dander from pets can also damage health.
Unborn and young children are particularly susceptible to air pollution, according to the report.
“The developing heart, lung, brain, hormone systems and immunity can all be harmed by pollution,” it continues. “Research is beginning to point towards effects on growth, intelligence, asthma and development of the brain and coordination. Harm to babies and children will have an impact that lasts far into the future.
“Taking action to tackle air pollution in the UK will reduce the pain and suffering for many people with long term chronic health conditions, not to mention lessening the long term demands on our NHS,” said Dr Andrew Goddard of the Royal College of Physicians.
The report found that, although the government and the World Health Organisation (WHO) set “acceptable” limits for air pollution, there is no level of exposure that can be seen to be safe, with any exposure carrying a risk.
A wide-ranging set of measures to tackle the problem are called for, including tougher regulations to limit air pollution, such as reliable testing of emissions from vehicles following last year’s VW diesel emissions test scandal. However, the report calls for more and deeper research into indoor air pollution.
“We must strengthen our understanding of the key risk factors and effects of poor air quality in our homes, schools and workplaces. The drive to reduce energy costs, by creating homes with tighter ventilation, could be making the situation worse,” the report says.
“The building engineering services industry has been waiting a long time for the medical profession to acknowledge the seriousness of the air quality problem inside buildings,” said David Frise, head of sustainability at BESA.
“There is no shortage of research looking at outdoor pollution, but as the situation worsens outside, so does the impact on human health inside where we spend 90% of our time.
“Building engineering services contractors have a range of techniques available for mitigating the impact of poor IAQ – what we need now is compelling evidence to encourage building owners and managers to face up to their responsibilities in this area.
“This new report and follow up research may be just what we have been waiting for.”