News

02 Mar 2020

Indoor Air Quality and Children’s Health – Part three

In our final post on ‘The Inside Story’ a study published in January 2020, we focus on some of the recommendations made by the authors to improve indoor air quality.

 

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health estimate that 3.6m UK children live in poor quality housing and spend on average only 68 minutes outside each day. They majority of time is spent indoors, at school or at home.

Strategies to improve indoor air quality

The report highlights the challenge facing poorer families to keep their homes warm whilst balancing this with good indoor air quality. In addition, they have less choice about the quality of their homes which often makes them more likely to encounter health problems relating to poor ventilation. This was discussed in our second post of this series.

 

The report draws attention to the fact that current building regulations focus mostly on energy efficiency rather than air quality for new buildings. Whilst there are recommended minimum levels of air flow through buildings, the regulations do not go as far as to set standards for air quality, nor do they apply to retrofit upgrades of older buildings. This needs to change.

The case for a national indoor clean air strategy

The report calls for a national strategy to be developed, led by a committee of representatives of local authorities, child health professionals, building industry leaders, and national government.

 

It recommends that the strategy should include providing information to the public about maintaining healthier indoor environments, and processes for occupants of poorer quality housing to report problems that can be actioned.

The authors recommend the committee should specifically be required to:

  • Take the lead on setting emission standards and a labelling system for building materials, furniture, and home decorating, products, based on any health hazards.
  • Build on work already done by Public Health England on VOC’s and provide information to support healthier choices of less polluting products.
  • Use regulatory powers to force a more precautionary approach to introducing chemicals which have not been tested for potential harmful effects.
  • Set quality standards in line with other aspects of product safety for products such as air filtration and air quality monitors.

What’s happening now to improve indoor air quality?

In February 2020 new restrictions on the sale of domestic fossil fuels and untreated ‘wet’ wood were introduced in the UK. The regulations target a reduction in combustion of fossil fuels, and represent an important step forward in minimising exposure to the harmful effects of fine particulate matter, a bi-product of burning untreated wood and coal indoors.

 

This is the first time the UK government has legislated specifically on indoor air quality, but it remains unknown how this will be enforced when it comes into effect from 2023.

 

In 2017 Scotland introduced new energy efficiency standards which were adapted to include indoor air quality. Landlords will be required to collect data on air quality by measuring temperature CO2 and humidity levels. Going forward this data will be used to set new standards for indoor air quality from 2025.

 

UK building regulations have still got a lot of catching up to do on legislation to set safer levels of indoor air quality. When compared to other regulations concerning safety such as food packaging, progress is slow. Other European countries seem to be leading the way. For example, Finland already regulates on acceptable levels of specific pollutants such as particulates and formaldehydes in all new buildings.

What can we do to improve our indoor air quality?

The report highlights that responsibility cannot only be placed with families to take preventative steps to improve air quality. It recommends new guidance which includes:

  • No smoking indoors.
  • Regular cleaning and vacuuming to reduce levels of dust
  • Opening windows when using cleaning products and when cooking
  • Increase ventilation levels after interior decorating

For more detailed information on common sources of indoor air pollution please refer to section 8