Peter Howarth, Professor of Allergy and Respiratory medicine at Southampton University, calls for increased awareness of what is being termed ‘Toxic Home Syndrome’:
“There is a lot of noise about how outdoor air pollution affects your health, but we should look closer to home as this is where we spend most of our time. Indoor air can be more hazardous than outdoor air, particularly in young children and the elderly and where air quality is poorest. Toxic Home Syndrome occurs when individuals and families are exposed to a potent mix of airborne pollutants within the home arising from poor ventilation, causing respiratory and skin diseases to occur more frequently.
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.”
Prof Hazim B. Awbi, School of the Built Environment, University of Reading, talks about the findings in his ‘Future Scenarios’ report on the impacts of IAQ by 2050 if action is not taken to tackle indoor air pollution:
‘‘ 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.
There needs to be increased awareness of effectively installed MHVR systems to prevent a rise in future health issues, particularly as UK homes become increasingly air tight and energy efficient. I support the view that all new and refurbished homes should have effective and sustained mechanical ventilation installed as standard and support the need for a ‘healthy home mark’ to ensure homes meet indoor air quality standards to protect our health.’’
Jim Shannon MP Chairman of the All-Party Parliament Group for Healthy Homes and Buildings.
As most of us typically spend 90% of our time inside, it is critical that our homes and buildings should first and foremost be designed and built for people.
Creating healthy and comfortable living and working conditions is critical to our general happiness, health, wellbeing and education. Over the past year we [the APPG] have examined the huge spectrum of health risks suffered by many living and working in poor accommodation, shining a light on this burgeoning public health problem which too often affects the most vulnerable in our society.
We know that whilst it is important to ensure that new homes and buildings are built to a high standard, it is also crucial that we address the buildings that already exist too; over 85% of existing homes are over 20-years-old so there is much work to be done in relation to renovation and retrofitting.
Government needs to ensure it has a public health focus that properly considers the indoor environment as much as the external environment. For example, recognising that improving indoor air quality is just as much a health priority as tackling outdoor air quality, is a critical first step in the right direction. We believe that the enormous financial savings and cost benefits which could be accrued by raising building and environmental standards and/or retrofitting homes and buildings are compelling.
Healthy homes and buildings mean: lower costs to the health service and a healthier population — better educational attainment and higher productivity — reduced emissions, lower energy bills and a lower carbon footprint — improved wellbeing and comfort — greater life chances, independent living and care
Liz McInnes, MP for Heywood and Middleton, former NHS worker, and former Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government and Member of the Health Select Committee:
“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.”
Jill Sanders of Action Against Allergy, a national charity representing those suffering from allergic disease:
“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.”