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.


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. 

How is your indoor environment affecting your mental health?

Housing is more than just a roof over your head. How is your indoor environment impacting your mental health?

Having a home is an essential part of living a full life. To be able to stay focused on our families, jobs and health we need a place that is safe, secure and stable to live in. Mind UK published the report “Brick by Brick – A review of mental health and housing” which explores the connection between mental health and housing in further detail.

The report found that there are some indications that housing design can have a preventative effect and reduce the likelihood that residents will experience poor mental health. People living in newer and better-maintained buildings tend to have better mental health and they are also less prone to using health services.

One in three people in the UK live in poor quality housing, and the stress caused by the poor physical condition of a property has a large negative impact on mental health. There is particularly strong evidence for the negative impact of damp and cold. These housing issues can contribute to poor physical health which in turn can negatively impact mental health even further.

The primary causes of poor indoor air quality are condensation and mould, which comes as a result of a damp home. There are many factors which can contribute to this, such as poor insulation, inadequate heating and ventilation as well as the lifestyle of the occupant.

The challenge for the householder is to strike the balance between insulation, heating and ventilation. This can be particularly difficult for those in rented accommodation as the householder isn’t always in charge of these features, which is one of the reasons Mind UK is calling on policy changes to assure that the country has higher quality homes in order to keep its population healthy and safe.

The report states that “having a safe and secure home is an intrinsic part of people’s mental wellbeing and the absence of a place to feel truly at home can have a devastating impact on anyone’s mental health. If you have a mental problem, this impact is often amplified.”

The evidence presented in this report makes it clear that good quality housing is critical to good mental health. Without preventative measures to keep people out of homes that are causing or worsening mental health problems, we’ll only see the issue grow.

To read the full report press here.

Air Quality a major concern among voters.

A new survey by Opinium shows that 40% of UK adults would be more likely to vote for a party which promised to tackle air pollution.

Air pollution is a pressing problem in today’s society and last week’s news about a young girl’s fatal asthma attack potentially being linked to the country’s poor air quality shows just how big of an issue it really is.

A survey by Opinium suggests that 71% of UK adults are either somewhat or very concerned about air pollution for their own health, and the health of other people[1]. A survey by Censuswide for BEAMA also shows that 68.9% of UK adults believe that indoor air quality is equally as important to outdoor air quality[2].

According to a government report published in 2018, poor air quality has been classified as the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK[3]. However, with growing concerns about the illegal levels of air pollution in the country, Opinium’s survey finds that nearly half (47%) of UK adults believe the government is not doing enough to tackle air pollution.

Outdoor air is a major threat to public health in the UK, but what many people don’t know is that indoor air can be up to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air and contain up to 900 potentially dangerous chemicals, particles and biological materials [4].

57% of UK adults believe that it should be the government’s responsibility to tackle outdoor air pollution[5] and 73.4% of UK adults believe that the government should make indoor air quality a government priority as well [6].

“The government’s plans for reducing air quality have been widely criticised and deemed inadequate by the High Court. The public clearly believe national government should play a bigger role – in fact the biggest role – in introducing measures to reduce air pollution. The government should be helping to establish a larger network of low emission zones across England.” Says Eamonn Ives, researcher at Bright Blue.

As we spend 90% of our time indoors and around 16 hours a day in our homes[7], it is important that light is not only shed on the countries issues with outdoor air pollution but also its indoor environments. Poor indoor air quality has a reported annual cost to the UK of over 204,000 healthy life years, with 45% of those lost to cardiovascular diseases, 23% lost to asthma and allergy and 15% to lung cancer [8]. A new Scottish study has also shown links in air pollution spikes and hospital admissions [9] further providing evidence for the air pollution issues this country is facing.

Opinium’s survey shows that 40% of UK adults would be more likely to vote for a party which promised to tackle air pollution. The costs to the NHS and the UKs public health due to outdoor and indoor air pollution is greater than ever and can no longer be ignored.

Want to find out more about how you can improve your indoor air quality? Visit our page on “tips & advice for a healthy home”.

[1] Will Date. (2018). Poll shows air quality a ‘major concern’ among voters. Available: Last accessed 12 July 2018.
[2] BEAMA – My Health My Home. (2017). Indoor Air Pollution Survey. Censuswide. The survey was conducted from a representative sample of 1000 UK householders. Censuswide abide by and employ members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.
[3] DEFRA (2018) Clean Air Strategy
[4] European Commission, Health and Consumer Protection Directorate, Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER). Opinion on risk assessment on indoor air quality. 2007.
[5] Will Date. (2018). Poll shows air quality a ‘major concern’ among voters. Available: Last accessed 12 July 2018.
[6] BEAMA – My Health My Home. (2017). Indoor Air Pollution Survey. Censuswide. The survey was conducted from a representative sample of 1000 UK householders. Censuswide abide by and employ members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.
[7] European Commission, Joint Research Centre – Institute for Health and Consumer Protection. Report No. 23. Ventilation, Good Indoor Air Quality and Rational Use of Energy. 2003.
[8] National Institute for Health and Welfare. Efficient reduction of indoor exposures. Health benefits from optimizing ventilation, filtration and indoor source controls. 2013

The Business Case for Health and Wellbeing in Green Building

The World Green Building Council recently published a report on the “Business Case for Health and Wellbeing in Green Building”

The World Green Building Council recently published a report on the “Business Case for Health and Wellbeing in Green Building” featuring case studies demonstrating the major benefits which can be made to both people and the planet just by changing up an office environment.

Buildings are the place where people work, live, play, heal and learn and they have a direct impact on our health and wellbeing. What many people don’t know, is that buildings also have the largest potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions which would contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The report by The World Green Building Council therefore explores the dual opportunity to do right by the planet and people by showcasing revolutionary green building projects which are paving the way to a resource efficient, healthy and productive future.

The report features case studies from 11 different green building projects in business environments from all over the globe. Each case study features a review of the green features that were implemented into the building and a study on the occupant satisfaction post instalment. The green features are divided into categories such as Indoor Air Quality, Acoustics, Lighting and Materials and the top three benefits found overall were:

  • Reductions in energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants.
  • Improvements to occupant wellbeing, satisfaction and productivity.
  • Strong financial returns for the companies owning or occupying these buildings.

Indoor air quality was a “green feature” discussed in almost every case study. Ventilation, VOC friendly building materials and CO2 sensors were all things featured in the green build improvements and for example in the Sherwin-Williams office refurbishment in San Salvador, El Salvador a 64% reduction in allergy problems and a 68% reduction in respiratory problems was reported post refurbishment.

The results from the 11 case study projects in this report make a great case for the enormous benefits which can be made from advances in the green building world, driven by clear evidence of economic as well as environmental and social benefit.

Read the full report here.

New tool highlights the significant health and social care costs of air pollution

pexels-photo-683535A new report and cost tool published by Public Health England has calculated that the health and social care costs of air pollution could reach £5.3 billion by 2035 unless action is taken.

The tool and report, created alongside the UK Health Forum and Imperial College London, highlights the potential future costs to the NHS and social care system of 2 pollutants; particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). This has been part of a far greater government strategy to reduce air pollution in the UK that was announced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recently.

The tool has highlighted that, without immediate action to minimize air pollution in England, the associated health and social care costs could reach £5.3 billion. These costs take into consideration diseases where there is a strong association with air pollution: coronary heart disease; stroke; lung cancer; and childhood asthma. When diseases with weaker evidence of association are also included, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; diabetes; low birth weight; lung cancer (for NO2 only); and dementia, the costs could total as much as £18.6 billion by 2035.

Key findings of the tool include that just a small reduction in the population’s exposure to PM2.5 and NO2 could lead to a significant reduction in costs. Figures are based on modeling carried out on a national level and in 2 local authorities, as detailed below.

If there was a 1µg/m3 reduction in PM2.5 and NO2 over a year, relative to the 2015 baseline, the cumulative number of new cases of all diseases and NHS and social care costs avoided could be:

1µg/m3 reduction in PM2.5 1µg/m3 reduction in PM2.5 1µg/m3 reduction in NO2 1µg/m3 reduction in NO2
Years Region New cases avoided (per 100,000) Costs avoided (£m/100,000) New cases avoided (per 100,000) Costs avoided (£m/100,000)
2015 to 2025 England 146 0.72 32 0.19
Lambeth 153 0.72 28 0.15
South Lakeland 119 0.6 33 0.3
2015 to 2035 England 314 2.42 59 0.6
Lambeth 310 2.35 57 0.54
South Lakeland 204 2.05 70 0.75

All local authorities can download the tool, and use it to estimate the impact on health and cost savings in their area under different air pollution scenarios. The tool is largely aimed at local authorities in particular as they are ideally placed to introduce air pollution minimization policies given the legal air quality powers they have locally. Until now there hasn’t been a way for local authorities to estimate potential savings, but now this new tool is available to them it should allow fully developed economic and financial cases for reducing emissions.

To read the full report, and download the tool, click here:

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 has turned their research into a checklist for homeowners 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


UNICEF Danger in the Air

In their newest report, UNICEF discusses 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 touches on is in regard to indoor air pollution is the use of cookstoves. 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 are 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 as 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


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 per cent 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 per cent of the cardiovascular disease burden can be attributed to household air pollution from cooking with polluted fuels, with almost a third (30 per cent) 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 per cent) 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 per cent or 56,000 of IHD deaths each year, three per cent or 43,000 stroke deaths, two per cent or 10,000 lung cancer deaths, and three per cent 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