A new report highlights that current building regulations are not sufficient to tackle the impact of indoor air pollution on health, and predicts that without intervention the UK could see an 80% increase in asthma sufferers over the next 35 years.
‘The Future of Indoor Air Quality in UK Homes and its Impact on Health’ by indoor air quality specialist Professor Hazim Awbi, from the School of the Built Environment at Reading University, also warns that the levels of Volatile Organic Compounds could rise to 60% above the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended limits for a 24 hour exposure period.
The UK government is committed in law to an 80% carbon reduction by 2050 and to meet this target homes must become more energy efficient and therefore more airtight. However, building regulations have not properly considered the adverse impact of improved air tightness on indoor air quality (IAQ) and the health of occupants.
Increasing air tightness without installing adequate ventilation reduces air exchange, allowing pollutants to accumulate, and the quality of air to worsen. While current building regulations specify levels of air permeability and require sample testing, there is no similar requirement to test air exchange and ensure it meets levels safest for human health as recommended by the WHO. As energy efficiency measures increase, the situation is expected to significantly deteriorate.
The association between poor indoor air quality and health is well documented, with links to a range of health problems including: asthma and allergy symptoms, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, airborne respiratory infections and cardiovascular disease. There are concerns that those spending most time at home, including young mothers, children and the elderly, are most at risk.
Professor Awbi explains that to protect human health, and avoid a potential asthma epidemic, there should be a requirement of an air exchange rate of 0.5 ac/h and that mechanical ventilation systems with heat recovery are key to delivering both healthy indoor air and energy efficiency.
However, the report also identifies problems associated with the installation of ventilation and recommends that much more needs to be done to ensure that the systems are fitted and working to specification. Similarly, the Professor raises concerns over their ongoing maintenance and the lack of operational knowledge by homeowners.
‘‘To avoid a serious and significant increase in asthma cases and other health conditions related to poor indoor air quality, homes must be adequately ventilated. In addition to the need for mechanical ventilation systems I would also advise that a minimum air exchange rate that new homes must meet is enforced and there is tighter regulation to ensure systems are properly installed, effectively operated and adequately maintained,” said Professor Awbi.
Liz McInnes, MP for Heywood and Middleton, former NHS worker, and shadow minister for Communities and Local government, said: “The issue of poor indoor air quality on health and particularly its impact on sufferers of asthma is sometimes overlooked by policy makers and health professionals. GPs play a crucial role in providing information and guidance to patients, but increasingly important is the role of local councils who are now responsible for public health. The conclusions of Professor Awbi’s report need to be fully considered, and government, health professionals, local councils and social housing associations need to work together on finding solutions.”