News

Research endorses better air quality for healthier and more productive offices

New research from the University of Southampton shows that improved awareness of poor indoor air quality could lead to healthier and more productive offices.

In a recent report commissioned by DEFRA, Dr Stephen Snow from Southampton’s School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) makes several recommendations on how to address indoor air quality based on evaluations on social and behavioural factors that affect the air quality in offices.

Indoor air quality is one of the leading causes of reduced cognitive performance in offices but receives very little attention in comparison to outdoor air quality. Fatigue, headaches, dizziness and coughing are all symptoms of poor indoor air quality, which can all have a negative impact on productivity in an office.

The research placed a specific focus on the sphere of influence of occupants for their office’s air quality, instead of exploring engineering solutions and building performance, which the users have no control over.

Some of the key recommendations included investing in low-cost office sensors which are ambient and viewable with a quick glance and highlighted the potential rewards of this approach. It also suggests that IAQ campaigns could focus on prompts for regular active breaks from seated office work and offer insights into applicable behavioural models to guide future interventions.

“Because we become acclimatised to the space we’re in, cognitive performance can be impacted by inadequate ventilation prior to awareness of the declining indoor air quality,” Stephen explains. “This report outlines opportunities for how indoor air quality visualisations might be designed to inform and support healthier ventilation practices in naturally ventilated offices.”

Furthermore, as part of a secondment through Public Policy Southampton and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Impact Accelerator Account funding, Dr Snow’s research was used in the REFRESH project which was led by Principal Investigator m.c. Schraefel to show how social factors could affect interactions with building controls like windows and radiators, along with the design of air quality monitors.

Read the full report here.

Read about the REFRESH project here.

 

APPG HHB White Paper Launch – Laying the Foundations for Healthy Homes and Buildings

On October 24th, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Healthy Homes and Building’s White Paper entitled ‘Building our Future: Laying the Foundations for Healthy Homes and Buildings’ was published.

With the aim to tackle the numerous health and wellbeing issues in UK homes and buildings, APPGHHB believe that with this White Paper there is a real opportunity to create and use buildings to promote positive health and wellbeing, make savings in health care costs, improve productivity and allow the UK’s citizens to lead longer, healthier and happier lives.

As we spend 90% of our time indoors, our indoor environments are important. Without looking after them, we are at risk of health conditions which could largely impact both the economy and our society. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Healthy Homes and Buildings (APPGHHB) was created to shed light on the many problems caused to the nation’s health and the economy as a result of people working and living in unhealthy homes and buildings. The APPGHHB believe that it is only by taking a holistic approach to delivering healthy homes and buildings that we can make changes where the real benefits can be realised. Without focusing on the issue as a whole, we risk making gains by tackling one issue, simply to lose them again by failing to tackle another.

“Without focusing on the issue as a whole, we risk making gains by tackling one issue, simply to lose them again by failing to tackle another.”

The White Paper lays out a list of recommendations explaining in detail how the nation can and should deliver healthy homes and buildings. At the official launch of the White Paper, which took place at the Houses of Commons on Wednesday evening, attendees could discuss the paper’s contents and recommendations with the paper’s authors and experts.

As a sponsor of the ABBGHHB, BEAMA were thrilled and honoured to have had a role in the writing and producing of this White Paper. Healthy homes and buildings are a key focus for us as an organisation and we believe this White Paper has the power to make a highly positive impact on the future of housing.

Read the White Paper in full.

National Air Quality Awards 2018

The 2018 National Air Quality Conference and Awards took place on Thursday, October 4th.

The day began with a conference with the aim to discuss the practical steps being taken to tackle air pollution, to look at the future role of road transport and how car-makers are looking to tackle emissions as well as to hear about the latest innovations within the clean air field.

An exciting part of this year’s conference agenda was a session on Indoor Air Quality which was chaired by David Evans MBE who is the founder of AirTopia. We live tweeted from the session and you can see some of the highlights below:

See more by following #NAQC2018

Following the conference, the awards ceremony took place, where the following categories were featured:

• Local Authority & Public-Sector Air Quality Initiative of the Year
• Innovation in Air Quality Technology
• Passenger Transport Air Quality Initiative of the Year
• Vehicle Fleet Air Quality Initiative of the Year (prev. Freight Transport)
• Leader in Low Emission Mobility
• Air Quality Communications Initiative of the Year
• Commercial Sector Air Quality Initiative of the Year
• Air Quality Champion
• Indoor Air Quality Initiative of the Year

The Indoor Air Quality Initiative of the Year
Another exciting part of this year’s event was the Indoor Air Quality Initiative of the Year award. The award was open to the business or organisation which could demonstrate how they have made a notable contribution towards improving indoor air quality in a specified environment: through a product, new initiative or dedicated campaign.

BEAMA were honoured to sponsor the award, which was presented by Keith Ritchie from Titon and chairman of BEAMA Ventilation Group. This year’s winner of the award was Hilson Moran, a multidisciplinary engineering consultancy for the built environment. They won the award for their work in fitting out a new Manchester Office in a project which incorporated green moss walls, selected plants to such benzene, formaldehyde and other air pollutants out of the air. They fitted kitchen cupboards made from potato skin and straw which helped avoid the use of materials high in VOCs. All of these solutions will help improve health and wellbeing within the workspace and the office is one of the first outside of London to be awarded the WELL Certification.

Thank you Air Quality News for a great and important event. We are very happy to see Indoor Air Quality becoming a key part of the discussion on air pollution.

How polluted is the area you live in? and how does this affect my IAQ?

In a recent article by the Telegraph, figures published by DEFRA were analysed to see where the cleanest and dirtiest air in the UK could be found.

It is no secret that the air quality in the capital is of concern, but the article also found that most of the southern half of Britain, particularly the Midlands near major roads, also has air pollution levels above what is recommended by the World Health Organisation.

The specific air pollution which the article looked at was nitrogen dioxide (NO2) as well as so-called particulate matter (PM). PM particles are classified as carcinogenic and due to their small size, they can penetrate deep inside people’s lungs as well as enter their bloodstream.

The article features an interactive map in which you can look at the air pollution levels across the country. Unsurprisingly, the cleanest air in the UK can be found on top of a mountain in the Scottish Highlands. What is the air quality like where you live?

While these figures look at ambient air pollution, it is important to remember that air pollution doesn’t only affect you when you are outdoors.

While these figures look at ambient air pollution, it is important to remember that air pollution doesn’t only affect you when you are outdoors. If your home is poorly ventilated and you live in an area which is at risk of high levels of air pollution, then staying indoors may not be enough to protect you. Due to the high focus on optimising the energy efficiency of houses, our homes are becoming more airtight. Without adequate ventilation, all of the bad pollutants which are produced inside a home through for example the use of cleaning products, cooking with gas and drying washing as well as those that enter the house from the outdoors, get trapped in the house. You spend 90% of your time indoors, therefore the indoor air quality of your home is important.

Some say that opening a window is enough to ventilate your home and let the trapped pollution free, but unfortunately this isn’t always the case, especially if you live in a part of the country with high levels of ambient pollution. Ventilation is indeed an exchange of air and in theory, opening your windows allows this to happen within your home – but unless you live on top of that mountain in the Scottish Highlands you may be doing more harm than good. Exchanging the polluted air in your home with the polluted air from the outdoors isn’t going to improve your home’s indoor air quality, at least not in regards to PM particles and NO2, but a ventilation system which was built to do just that most likely will.

To read more about how to ventilate the home, see our Ventilation Factsheet.

To see our top tips on how to improve the indoor air quality of your home, press here.

Air pollution threatening the health of unborn children

New evidence has shown that air pollution can pass from a pregnant woman’s lungs to the placenta, meaning that before a baby even enters the world, their body has been exposed to pollution.

The UK study looked at 5 non-smoking women who all gave birth to healthy babies after an uncomplicated pregnancy. The women gave permission for their placentas to be studied after delivery and researchers monitored cells in them called placental macrophages. These cells are a part of the body’s immune system and help protect the foetus by engulfing harmful particles like bacteria and pollution particles. The researchers studied a total of 3,500 placental macrophage cells and found that 60 contained 72 small black areas between them. These black areas are what researchers believe to be sooty air pollution particles and on average each placenta contained around five square micrometres of the black area.

Dr Liu, one of the authors of the study says:

“We were not sure if we were going to find any particles and if we did find them, we were only expecting to find a small number of placental macrophages that contain these sooty particles”

“Our results provide the first evidence that inhaled pollution particles can move from the lungs into the circulation and then to the placenta. We do not know if the particles we found could also move across to the foetus, but our evidence suggests that this is indeed possible”

Even if the particles don’t move between the placenta and the body of the baby, they can still have an effect:

“We also know that the particles do not need to get into the baby’s body to have an adverse effect, because if they have an effect on the placenta, this will have a direct impact on the foetus”

So, where is this pollution coming from and how do you avoid it?

The particles found in the placentas of the mothers are believed to be particulate matter, also referred to as PM. They are a complex mix of solid and/or liquid particles which are suspended in the air and come in different sizes. Particles under the size of 10 micrometres are of main concern, as these are the ones that are inhalable.

Particulate Matter has been linked to a range of health impacts, including eye, nose and throat irritation, aggravation of coronary and respiratory disease symptoms as well as premature death in people with heart or lung disease.

Most people associate particulate matter with oil and gas production as well as the burning of fossil fuels, but what many people don’t know is that you can also be exposed to particulate matter indoors. Indoor particulate matter can originate from outdoor air entering the house, but it can also be generated through cooking, combustion activities (which includes the burning of candles, use of fireplaces and cigarette smoking) and indoor heaters. While you won’t want to give up on cooking in your own home, you can control the levels of PM inside your house. If your house is adequately ventilated, the levels of PM in your home are expected to be much lower. Without ventilation, the pollutants that enter or are generated within your home will become trapped within the walls of your house and in turn, you may be exposing yourself to even worse air quality than you would be if you stayed outdoors.

View our guide to effective ventilation here.

See our top tips on how to improve your homes indoor air quality here. 

UN: Air Pollution – Know your enemy

“We can’t stop breathing. But we can do something about the quality of our air, and global action is growing at all levels. To have any chance of truly changing the air, however, we need to know our enemy better and what we can do to defeat it.”

UN Environment recently published a new article discussing air pollution and how to tackle it. In the article they claim that nine out of ten people worldwide are statistically exposed to levels of air pollutants which exceed what the World Health Organization regards as safe. This means that with almost every breath we take, we are inhaling tiny particles which attack your organs and can lead to problems such as respiratory disease, heart disease, stroke and poor mental health.

While ambient (outdoor) air pollution is a major issue worldwide, My Health My Home was pleased to see mention of indoor air pollution and how this also is a contributor to the air pollution problem.

UN Environment lists the following sources as causes of both outdoor and indoor air pollution:

  • Burning of fossil fuels
  • Industrial processes, such as those of the chemical and mining industries
  • Agriculture
  • Waste treatment and management, particularly landfills
  • Dirty indoor cooking and heating systems
  • Natural processes such as volcanic eruptions and dust storms

All of these sources spread substances including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen oxide, ground-level ozone, particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, hydrocarbons and lead. How much of this we end up breathing in, depends on a number of factors. These include weather and time of day. Rush hour may seem an obvious source of local air pollution, but air pollution travels, sometimes even across continents on international weather patterns. Air pollution is a global issue and everyone is at risk.

While you may not be entirely in control over what goes on outside of your home, something you can change is the quality of the air where you spend 90% of your time. Indoor air pollution comes as a result of a build-up of pollutants within the home. This can occur due to a number of reasons, the main being poor ventilation within your home. According to the World Health Organisation, poor indoor air quality is responsible for around 99,000 European deaths a year.

Some ways you can improve the indoor air of your home includes:

  • Assuring your home has an adequate ventilation system installed and running
  • Use eco-friendly cleaning products which releases fewer toxins into the air of your home
  • Dry your washing outside, or in a very well ventilated room – this will reduce the build-up of moisture

For a full list of our top tips on how to improve your indoor air quality press here.

Read the full UN Environment Article here.

Useful Resources: British Lung Foundation on Indoor Air Quality

Respiratory symptoms and disease can be an outcome of poor indoor air quality. British Lung Foundation have produced some useful resources explaining how to deal with it.

With over 30 years’ worth of research into different lung conditions, the British Lung Foundation is the nation’s biggest lung charity. Coughing, wheezing, asthma, COPD and Lung Cancer can all be caused by poor indoor air quality. Lung cancer caused by indoor air pollution is responsible for the loss of 30,600 healthy life years in the UK on its own. As a result, BLF have a dedicated section on their website called “your home and your lungs”  to indoor air quality, where one can find many useful resources and information about indoor air pollution and lung disease.

Who is at risk?

According to BLF, you’re at greater risk of being affected by indoor air pollution if you have already been diagnosed with a long-term lung condition such as asthma or COPD. If you have a lung condition, you may also be likely to spend more time indoors, which further increases your risk.

Children are also particularly sensitive to poor indoor air quality. Compared to adults, children’s lungs are proportionally larger in relation to their body weight, meaning they breathe in more. Furthermore, a child’s immune system is still developing and so they are less capable of fighting off any problems caused by indoor air pollution.

If you have been breathing polluted air for days or weeks at a time, you may start noticing some symptoms. These include a dry throat, cough, shortness of breath, an itchy or runny nose or the feeling of being wheezy.

BLF lists some of the most common causes of indoor air pollution to be a result of:

  • How buildings are ventilated
  • Damp and condensation
  • How we heat and cook in our homes
  • Chemicals in cleaning or decorating products

They also provide a guide on how to improve your homes indoor air quality including tips such as:

  • Making sure your home is ventilated
  • Using an extractor fan when cooking or showering to avoid condensation
  • Dry your washing outside
  • Keeping your home at a comfortable temperature

See the full guide here.
See My Health My Home’s top tips for a healthy home here.

BEAMA publishes first Ventilation White Paper, Better Ventilation, Better Homes, Better Health

BEAMA News Story - White Paper 2

As indoor air pollution continues to become an ever-growing public health issue, the national trade body for the electrotechnical industry, BEAMA, has published its first Ventilation White Paper entitled Better Ventilation, Better Homes, Better Health. The White Paper addresses a range of measures that, if actioned, can help solve the issues facing the industry and deliver better indoor air quality in UK homes.

Poor indoor air quality has been linked to a wide range of health problems, from allergy and asthma to conditions as serious as lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Indoor air pollution is also responsible for the annual loss of 204,000 healthy life years every year in the UK, as well as resulting in considerable costs to the NHS and the wider economy. One method of combatting poor indoor air is to ensure that your home is properly and continuously ventilated.

In the White Paper, BEAMA has identified two critical areas of concern that are currently facing the industry:

  • The lack of a joined-up approach towards energy efficiency and ventilation
  • Poor-quality installations which are ‘plaguing the industry’

“While very positive steps have been made to improve the energy efficiency of our homes, whether they be newly built homes or retrofitted existing homes, the same cannot be said for improvements in ventilation.”

Dr Howard Porter, Chief Executive Officer, BEAMA

BEAMA is calling on the Government to make indoor air quality a priority by financially incentivising the installation of ventilation improvements and undertaking public education campaigns on the health risks of indoor air pollution and the simple steps that homeowners can take to improve their own home air. The Paper outlines the importance of improving the focus of indoor air quality in Building Regulations and compliance with these Regulations.

“As homes are becoming ever more airtight we need to focus on ensuring that the ventilation industry plays its part in helping to deliver good indoor air quality. Energy efficiency improvements are being made in isolation without due consideration to the unintended consequences of sealing up homes and where installations of ventilation are being made, they are often not up to scratch. Our White Paper aims to tackle all of these issues with a few simple steps that Government could take to help ensure better indoor air for all.”

Keith Ritchie, Chairman of the BEAMA Ventilation Group

To read the full White Paper, please click here.

For more information on indoor air quality, please visit our resources page where we have a variety of infographics and reports that can be downloaded and used as you wish.

How does mould impact your health and your indoor air quality?

Everyone knows mould isn’t good for you, but not many people know just how much it can impact your health and indoor air quality.

We conducted a survey investigating how mould affects UK homeowners and over 65% of people said they experienced mould or condensation in their homes. 68.9% also said that they think indoor air quality is equally as important to outdoor air – yet we still hear very little about it in media or policies.

Peter Howarth, Professor of Allergy and Respiratory medicine at Southampton University says:

“I have had many patients come to me with serious respiratory conditions due to pollutants within the home. With respect to asthma, mould allergy is recognised to be associated with worse asthma and poorer asthma control.  The presence of moulds within the home is a reflection of poor ventilation and increased humidity. Homes with mould are also likely to have higher house dust mite allergen levels and this may worsen both respiratory and skin conditions. The lack of adequate ventilation within the home can also be associated with the build-up of non-allergenic noxious fumes which are detrimental to health.”

“MoldBlogger.com” is a website solely dedicated to the fight against toxic mould and the consequences of mould exposure. The website is run by Jonathan Wold and Brian and Krystle Reeves, who all have had first-hand experiences with mould and therefore decided to start the website. Brian, an aspiring architect says he often sees the damage that mould can do to buildings not properly constructed and wants more to be done about it. The website features blog posts on topics such as “the effects of breathing mould”, “checking your house for mould” and “the importance of clean air to prevent mould”.

In their post on the effects of breathing mould, the Mold Blog states that “mould produces allergens, irritants and sometimes even toxic substances” and that “a prolonged exposure to high levels of indoor dampness can reduce lung function, possibly causing bronchitis, pneumonia and other respiratory infections, particularly in children, the elderly and those already diagnosed with other medical conditions” In the post they also mention leading health entrepreneur, Sara Davenport, who writes in her book, Reboot Your Health “when your energy is low, mould exposure can weaken your body and change the way you think and feel. With ‘push me pull you’ tactics, mould spores overstimulate your immune system at the same time as blocking its ability to work properly, causing all kinds of physical and mental problems in the body.”

It is clearly no secret that breathing in mould spores not only makes sick people sicker, but it also can make otherwise healthy people sick. It promotes the development of long-term conditions like asthma and according to the World Health Organization, a large proportion of the 300 million childhood asthma cases worldwide can be attributed to indoor mould exposure.

As we spend 90% of our time indoors and 16 hours a day in our homes, a mould-free home should be of high importance to both individuals and policymakers at all times.

How do I prevent my home from mould?

The key to reducing mould in your home is to prevent it from dampness and condensation. One of the main reasons homes become damp is due to them being poorly ventilated. Without ventilating your home adequately, moisture builds up. Another way to reduce moisture in your home is to make sure you dry your clothes outside or in a room that is properly ventilated.

See more tips for a healthy home here.

Visit the Mold Blog here.