Research illuminates the role of air quality in worker’s physical and cognitive health

A workspace with an iMac and a laptop near a windowA new study carried out by a team at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health is working to show the negative impacts on human health that are associated with inadequate ventilation and air quality in buildings.

After a series of papers published in 2015, this new study will look further into proving the influence indoor air quality has on job performance. In the first phases of the study, 24 participants worked for six days in a simulated office while researchers regulated the room’s concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Ventilation rates and carbon dioxide levels were set to compare conditions of well-ventilated spaces to conventional office environments.

Nine areas of cognitive function were tested among participants, including focused-activity levels, information usage and strategy – all of which were significantly affected by poor ventilation. Notably, crisis response scores were up to 131% higher in offices that were very well ventilated.

Other studies conducted in the USA have examined the cost benefits of improving indoor air quality in office buildings, including the 2011 study from scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Environmental Protection Agency. Findings from this study estimated potential economic benefits of improved air quality at around $20 billion. Similarly, at the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health they found that doubling the ventilation rates had a small cost implication for employers of around $40 per person, yet can increase the productivity of employees by $6,500 a year.

The team of experts from Harvard Chan School have turned their research into a checklist for home owners to reference when considering how they can create a healthy home environment, two of these key foundations are cited to be ventilation and indoor air quality. To read the full checklist click here:

Air quality should be a very important consideration when it comes to creating a healthy indoor environment, both at work and in the home. In buildings where there are lower ventilation rates, air quality can become unpleasant and unhealthy. We spend 90% of our time indoors so the air we breathe should be one of our top priorities. Properly installed effective ventilation can help to maintain good indoor air quality by preventing the build-up of pollutants in the home. To read a full guide on ventilation, visit: and for more information on ventilation providers, visit:

This article originally appeared on The Harvard Gazette on February 14th 2018


Indoor Air Quality in the Home

We spend 90% of our time indoors and around 16 hours a day in our homes, breathing in air that can be up to 50 times more polluted than outdoor air and contain up to 900 potentially dangerous chemicals and particles. In our new video titled “Indoor Air Quality in the Home” we aim to raise awareness and inform homeowners of the range of serious health problems that come as a consequence of deteriorating indoor air quality in UK homes and buildings.

In a recent poll of UK homeowners commissioned by BEAMA it was found that:

  • 65% had experienced the signs of poor indoor air quality in their home
  • 80% of respondents thought that indoor air quality was either as important to their health, or more important than outdoor air
  • 65% would be willing to pay a small premium for a house with effective ventilation that maintained good indoor air quality
  • 73% thought that poor indoor air quality should be a health priority for government.

Around 65% of homes in the UK are estimated to suffer from poor indoor air quality because of inadequate ventilation.

Properly installed effective ventilation can help to maintain good indoor air quality by preventing the build-up of pollutants in the home. To read a full guide on ventilation, visit: For more information on ventilation providers, visit:

Colin Timmins of BEAMA said: “Poor indoor air quality is an issue that could have serious health consequences if we do not act together – as homeowners, industry and government. While we are working with industry and government to deliver better ventilation systems in UK homes, householders also need to be aware of the impact they are having on their own indoor air, what this could mean for them and the steps they can take to improve it.”

To watch the full video on Youtube click here.

UNICEF Danger in the Air

In their newest report, UNICEF discuss just how air pollution can affect the brain development in young children. The report not only centers around the large impact that outdoor air pollution has on the health of children, but also how indoor air pollution contributes to poor health.

One of the main points that the report touches on in regards to indoor air pollution is the use of cook stoves. Globally, solid fuels, such as wood, charcoal, dung and crop residues, are used in cooking and heating by around 3 billion people, which can cause indoor air pollution to reach extremely high levels, especially if there is a lack of adequate ventilation.

Globally, solid fuels, such as wood, charcoal, dung and crop residues, are used in cooking and heating by around 3 billion people, which can cause indoor air pollution to reach extremely high levels, especially if there is a lack of adequate ventilation.

When reducing the exposure to air pollution it is vital that physical and structural changes to homes and buildings is included. Within such buildings there should be a focus on improving ventilation and air filtration systems, particularly in classrooms, clinics, houses and hospitals.

Within the report UNICEF suggests that many indoor air pollutants should be avoided, this can include reducing children’s exposure to second-hand smoke. Other common sources of indoor contaminants include building and paint products, cleaning supplies and household chemicals. From these, contaminants such asbestos, formaldehyde, lead and radon can possibly enter the air either directly or indirectly. The more that we can understand what chemicals are in the products in and around our homes, and how they can be dangerous, the better we can protect ourselves and our children.

Read the full UNICEF report here


Our Own Homes are Making us Sick: Energy Efficiency is Part of the Cure

We spend 90% of our time indoors so it is extremely important that our homes and buildings are seen as a critical public health issue. There is growing evidence to show that the efficiency and design of our buildings is an even bigger problem than initially thought.

Member states and European Parliament are currently discussing the EU’s climate and energy goals for 2030 and beyond, with focus being directed towards the buildings we live and work in. This is becoming a key opportunity to enable us to not only significantly reduce our carbon footprint, but also to improve the general health of all European citizens.

One in six Europeans live in homes that make them sick. This can be due to dampness, leaking roofs and inadequate thermal control

Poor indoor air quality is responsible for the loss of 2 million healthy life years in the European Union with Europeans living in unhealthy buildings being 1.5 times more likely to report poor health.

These air quality problems also occur in schools, where over 64 million students and 4.5 million teachers are affected by the air they breath inside their schools. This can cause serious problems, such as the heightened risk or allergies and other conditions due to smaller airways being more vulnerable.

Additionally, in the workplace, indoor air quality, lighting, temperature and noise are all proven to have a direct impact on the health and well-being of workers as well as their productivity rates. Poor indoor air quality provokes a 9% productivity loss. More concretely, carpeting and less ventilation, reduce typing speed and proofreading accuracy by 4%. To put it plainly: bad, inefficient office environments aren’t only bad for the climate, but also bad for the bottom line of the businesses.

Poor indoor air quality provokes a 9% productivity loss and can reduce the typing speed and proofreading accuracy of workers by 4%

The traditional model of thinking when it comes to measuring the efficiency of buildings has been to look at their energy consumption. Although this is a key metric when considering how efficient a building is, it has become apparent that there is more to look at, with reducing energy consumption to go hand in hand with the protection of the health of people who live and work in these buildings.

There is a current oversight when it comes to advocating the inhabitants of our buildings within the European Commission. The only approach to achieve better health outcomes from indoor environments is to put the health of our citizens and workforce front and center, and that’s a cause that all politicians and policymakers can get behind.

This article originally appeared on Euractiv 19/12/2017

APPG For Healthy Homes and Buildings Second Oral Evidence Session

london_parliament_2007-1The most recent meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Healthy Homes and Buildings saw the second oral evidence session in response to the Green Paper Laying the Foundations for Healthy Homes and Buildings. Within this session of the APPG discussion was based around what needs to be done to achieve a healthier built environment.

This evidence session gave Officers of the Group, MPs and the authors of the Green Paper the opportunity to probe the issues raised in response to the Green Paper consultation. Members and officers of the APPG for Healthy Homes and Buildings invited the following speakers to discuss the health problems derived from unhealthy homes and buildings as well as how to raise Government awareness of the wider cost benefits of creating a healthy built environment.

  • Neil May: UK Centre for Moisture in Buildings
  • Ian Watson: Building Research Establishment
  • Dr Marcella Ucci: UK Indoor Environment Group
  • Dr Gráinne McGill: MEARU
  • Margaret Hamilton: Arup
  • Richard Twinn: UK Green Buildings Council
  • Dr Christopher Watson: Academic-Practitioner Partnership

APPG 21.11.2017The session began with Chris Yates, managing Director of Johnson and Starley, representing BEAMA. Speaking on behalf of the trade association, Yates stressed the importance of there being an improved focus on indoor air quality within building regulations that currently focus too strongly on energy efficiency. Yates continued to say “Ventilation should be treated as a “controlled service” in the same way that Gas and Electricity is and only installed by members of a CLG registered competent person scheme”

“Ventilation should be treated as a “controlled service” in the same was that Gas and Electricity is and only installed by members of a CLG registered competent person scheme” – Chris Yates, Johnson and Starley

Neil May from the UK Centre for Moisture in Buildings began his evidence by drawing attention to the fact that more than a third of buildings suffer from mould and that it should be a more important consideration when discussing healthy homes. Neil went on to emphasize the fact that evidence on mould and dampness in homes lacks much-needed clarity and is often conflicting, setting the organisations stance that moisture risk should be considered in all regulations moving forward with methodologies put in place where measurement is possible.

The Building Research Establishment called for greater control design and personal control when it comes to building regulations. Talking on behalf of the group, Ian Watson discussed how there is currently no regulations for local authorities to review housing conditions periodically, which needs to be changed. Ian placed high importance on the need for minimum space requirements and a Government review of building regulations.

A common suggestion from the panel was the need for a systematic review of homes and buildings in the UK that is well-balanced and independent. This will ensure regulations are a reflection of the current housing market without any conflicting evidence and opinions, a point heavily suggested by Dr Marcella Ucci of the UK Indoor Environment Group, who also explained the need for upskilling and educating the construction industry to implement future regulations effectively. Expanding on this point, Dr Gráinne McGill of MEARU also called for the upskilling of workers across all sectors related to housing and buildings, not solely the construction industry. Dr Gráinne also noted the absence of the mention of personal safety in the Health & Wellbeing outcomes.

A key outcome from evidence given by both MEARU and Margaret Hamilton on behalf of Arup is the requirement for greater focus on over-heating in the homes with specific reference to ventilation. Dr Gráinne addressed the problem that there is currently very little information regarding indoor air pollutants and the overall effects of these on homes and buildings, calling for more evidence to be collected in order to help rectify the differences between design expectations and actual performance of ventilation within the home.

There is currently very little information regarding indoor air pollutants and the overall effects of these on homes and buildings.

Despite the need to ensure new buildings are made in a suitable and healthy way Richard Twinn from the UK Green Buildings Council advises the group to be more conscious of the need for improvements within the existing building stock. Richard also drew the groups attention to the possible cost implications of moving towards a more holistic approach when improving buildings as he commented “Buildings need to be monitored, managed and maintained properly – do we have the models in place to ensure this constant maintenance?”

“Buildings need to be monitored, managed and maintained properly – do we have the models in place to ensure this constant maintenance?” – Richard Twinn, UK Green Buildings Council

The final group giving evidence to the APPG was the Academic-Practitioner Partnership with Dr Christopher Watson speaking. The basis of the evidence revolved around the crucial action needed on the poorest quality homes, cold homes, air quality, damp homes and overcrowding. Dr Christopher suggested a cross-departmental approach in order to go about finding solutions to these complex problems, drawing specific attention to the private rented sector and the longer-term threats to health and well being associated with housing.

This second oral evidence session was successful in helping to drive forward the Green Paper and allow improvements to be made to ensure that it can reach its full potential in greatly changing the current housing regulations, public awareness and general health and safety in all homes and buildings.

Household Air Pollution, The Forgotten Health Hazard

The health concerns surrounding outdoor air pollution is thoroughly documented. However when it comes to indoor air pollution, little action has been taken to address the relevant concerns despite the wide range of indoor pollutants that can affect your home.

In a new report, the World Health Organization (WHO) has shed some light on the issue.

The report reveals that 23 percent or 12.6 million of all global deaths each year are linked to the environment, with nearly two-thirds linked to noncommunicable diseases (NCD). These include ischaemic heart disease (IHD), stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer.

“The WHO estimates that 4.3 million people a year die from exposure to household air pollution globally, of which almost 120,000 are in the WHO European region,” Leen Meulenbergs, the WHO’s representative to the EU, told EUobserver.

Worldwide, 17 percent of the cardiovascular disease burden can be attributed to household air pollution from cooking with polluted fuels, with almost a third (30 percent) of COPD linked to polluted air at home.

While smoking was described as the most important risk factor for developing lung cancer, almost a fifth (17 percent) of deaths were attributed to household air pollution.

Another major element is the more common ailment of asthma, which is reportedly exacerbated by exposure to dampness, mould, house dust mites and other allergens in homes.

Household air pollution was reported as being responsible for three percent or 56,000 of IHD deaths each year, three percent or 43,000 stroke deaths, two percent or 10,000 lung cancer deaths, and three percent or 8,000 COPD deaths a year.

A wide range of interventions, according to the WHO, would be needed to reduce indoor air pollution and associated health effects. These actions could address the sources of pollution, the living environment, or changes in behaviour.

In the EU, indoor air quality was recently brought into the spotlight with the draft proposal of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD).

The proposal put forward to the European Parliament committee on industry, research and energy (ITRE) on 11 October and passed with an overwhelming majority, suggested a range of changes not only to improve the efficiency of buildings, but also included indoor air quality measures.

“There is a policy gap on indoor air quality and that lack of binding rules is leaving Europeans unprotected against dirty air indoors. The European Commission set a working group on indoor air quality in 2006, but nothing has been done since it stopped working in 2012,” Roberta Savli, director of strategy and policy at EFA, told EUobserver.

In spite of the slow progress at EU level, some member states have recognised the risk of indoor air pollution and have started their own initiatives to tackle the problem.

In 2015, Finland adopted a decree setting limits for microbial damage, adequate ventilation and concentration of chemicals. According to an estimate by the country’s environment ministry, between 600,000 and 800,000 people could be affected by indoor moisture and mould damage alone.

France also has an action plan, and the Italian ministry of health has developed guidelines for indoor air quality in schools.

Click here to read the full WHO report.

This article originally appeared on EU Observer 1/10/2017

Photo: iStock

How to Limit Exposure to Indoor Air Pollution


While outdoor air pollution is regularly discussed, indoor air pollution gets little attention, despite the fact that it can be up to five times worse than outside air pollution.

Professor Ian Colbeck, an indoor air quality expert from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Essex, who has carried carried out extensive research into indoor air quality and its impact on health, has provided some of his top tips on ways to improve air quality in the home.

  1. Need to smoke? Do it outside.
  2. Choose hard-surface floors
  3. Leave your shoes at the door
  4. Cook without leaving a trade
  5. Banish condensation
  6. Go all-natural
  7. Embrace the green stuff
  8. Purify the air
  9. Eliminate odours, don’t just mask them
  10. Ventilate


What are the health impacts of indoor air pollution? 

Poor indoor air quality can lead to a whole host of health issues, while indoor air pollution was attributed to 99,000 deaths across Europe in 2012. Professor Colbeck explains that the “potential health impacts of IAP can include asthma, respiratory irritation, heart disease, cancer, and sick building syndrome.” Sick building syndrome includes headaches, tiredness and loss of concentration, and can particularly affect office workers.

How can air purifiers help reduce indoor air pollution? 

Investing in an air purifier can be an invaluable step when it comes to keeping your home free from air pollutants. Air purifiers work by drawing air into the machine, where filters trap dust and other minute particles including pollen, bacteria, ultrafine particulates, VOCs and even odours. The machine then releases the smooth, purified, clean air back into the home.

This article originally appeared on London Loves Business, 11/10/2017

VTT-led European Project Aims for a Healthier Environment

chairs, classroom, collegeVTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is coordinating a European project called ESTABLISH, which aims to provide a healthier and safer environment and improve the quality of life for people across Europe. This project will include a pilot experiment in Finland, which will be carried out in schools. A call is now out for Finnish schools to participate in the experiment, which will begin next autumn and focus on improving indoor air quality.

The project involves developing innovative personalised applications and services for users by combining personal physiological measurements and sensor data on the quality of indoor and outdoor air. The aim is to gain information on the effect of indoor air quality on the well-being of students and teachers as well as reliable indoor air quality measuring techniques.

The pilot experiment will involve collecting information about indoor air quality using different kinds of classroom-based sensors.

Teachers will be given wearable devices for collecting personal physiological data. They will also have access to a mobile application that they can use to give feedback on how they perceive indoor air quality and their own well-being. During the second stage of the experiment, the mobile application will be used to give teachers information relating to their working environment and their own well-being.

The pilot experiment will be carried out in the autumn of 2018, and it will run for approximately four months.

The number of sensors in our living environment is expected to increase considerably in the next few years. This presents immense potential to develop new personalised data-based applications and services.

ESTABLISH (Environmental Sensing To Act for a Better Quality of Life: Smart Health) is a Europe-wide project consisting of 20 businesses from seven countries. The primary objective of the project is to improve people’s well-being by monitoring and improving indoor air quality. Other pilot experiments associated with this project focus on improving indoor air quality with the help of smart heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems.

This article originally appeared on Eurekalert, 12.10.2017

Indoor Air Quality on EU Building Agenda for First Time

MEPs will debate amendments to new EU building regulations next week (October 11th), which could see indoor air quality become a mandatory criteria for the first time.

The plans come as part of a larger rethink on future building standards in the wake of the Paris Agreement on climate change, and are intended as part of improving the overall energy performance of the built environment.

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) will be going before the committee on industry, research and energy (ITRE) on the 11th October. The proposed policy changes are intending to ensure all EU citizens have access to the best indoor air quality and will seek to set high minimum standards at the member state level, along with ambitious renovation strategies.

“Energy efficiency and indoor air quality must go hand in hand. The consequences poor indoor air quality has on Europeans’ health and quality of life, as well as on our economies, cannot be underestimated,” according to Roberta Savli, director of strategy and policy at the European Federation of Allergies and Airways Diseases Patients’ Associations (EFA).

“Europeans have the right to breathe clean and safe air everywhere,” she said and adds, “the European Parliament has the opportunity to introduce an indoor air quality certificate to protect us.”

But potential conflicts between the energy efficiency measures and proposed indoor air quality standards are already becoming apparent. Attempts to increase the energy efficiency of buildings generally mean “we are not opening windows; we are interchanging incoming and outgoing air” according to Jaromir Kohlicek, a Czech MEP and vice-chair of the ITRE committee.

Achieving the balance between a high level legislative framework and member state commitment for ambitious renovation strategies and action plans will be essential to see significant progress on the issue.

Adrian Joyce, secretary general of the European Alliance of Companies for Energy Efficiency in Buildings (EuroACE), admits that to “live up to the Paris Accords we have to change.”

He points out that buildings consume 40 percent of all energy and produce 36 percent of carbon dioxide emissions and 70 percent of all buildings were constructed before there were energy regulations.

The amendments must set a “strong vision for the building stock for 2050”, but he highlighted the “need to strengthen renovation strategies at the member state level”.

Achieving the balance between a high level legislative framework and member state commitment for ambitious renovation strategies and action plans will be essential to see significant progress on the issue.

The amendments sets a framework that, “defines responsibilities and allows member states to create their path to the overall 2050 goal,” according to EuroACE, “this is positive for the member states”. “If these amendments are adopted it means we will see much lower energy demand and much lower carbon dioxide emissions from buildings by 2050.”

Affordability will continue to be an issue. Financial support packages at the EU and member state level must be encouraged, according to Jaatteenmaki.

Kohlicek said that the intent of the changes, with respect to energy poverty and health outcomes, were such that “the declaration is quite clear, we must help the impoverished”.

“When you are living in better homes the heating costs are lower,” Kohlicek said.

Properly renovated and insulated buildings lose less heat and use less energy overall, meaning fewer decisions about ‘whether to heat or eat’. “We hope with these directives, we can push the entrepreneurs who own these buildings to fix the issues,” he comments.

But Kohlicek offers a word of caution, stating “the direct impact of indoor air quality will not be readily apparent”. It could take as long as ten years to see a statistical change, he warns, as these directives are for new buildings and future renovations. “This is a policy with a long view”.


This article originally appeared on EU Observer, 05/10/2017