Expert warns of an asthma epidemic – caused by our own homes

How UK homes are predicted to damage health over the next 35 years

A new report highlights that not enough is being done to consider 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’ –a report by indoor air quality specialist Professor Hazim Awbi – also warns that levels of pollutants in the home, known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s), could rise to 60% above World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended limits for a 24 hour exposure period.

The UK is committed 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 and increased energy efficiency on indoor air quality (IAQ) and the health of occupants.

Increasing airtightness means that air exchange – the quantity of air moving into and out of the home- is reduced allowing pollutants to accumulate, and the quality of air to worsen. Current building regulations do not enforce an adequate air exchange rate, which is predicted to leave UK homes at risk of breaching acceptable levels of pollutants outlined by 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.

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 policymakers 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.”

Professor Awbi highlights that to protect human health, and avoid a potential asthma epidemic, there should be changes in regulation and legislation to ensure new and existing homes are able to deliver healthy indoor air. Simply opening windows is not enough as it doesn’t allow the necessary level of air exchange, and the report concludes that effective and properly installed mechanical ventilation systems are key to addressing the problem.

Professor Awbi comments:

‘‘ To avoid a serious and significant increase in asthma cases – which could be up to 80% – 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 adequately installed, operated and maintained.’’

Jill Sanders of Action Against Allergy, a national charity representing those suffering from allergic disease, added:

“Indoor air quality seems to have been entirely overlooked until now, so it is encouraging to see that at last it is being recognised not only as a problem but indeed as a worsening problem. We hope this will start a process which will lead to awareness among government and industry about the quality of indoor air. We must expect energy efficiency regulation and monitoring to cover the air people breathe indoors, to ensure it is not detrimental to their health and wellbeing.”


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