Air Pollution Can ‘Nearly’ be as Bad for Babies as Smoking During Pregnancy

According to studies in Edinburgh and Aberdeen Universities, air pollution can lead to babies being born with shorter bodies and smaller heads. It was found that high exposure to toxic fumes during pregnancy can be nearly as harmful as smoking.

The findings are particularly worrying because the study – the largest of its kind so far conducted – only examined pollution in northern Scotland, where air quality is relatively good compared to more congested areas. These findings come just weeks after another study at Edinburgh University showed that nano-sized particles found in traffic fumes can damage the immune system’s ability to kill viruses and bacteria. These emissions can aggravate lung conditions and thought to increase the risk of dementia.

Dr Tom Clemens, who led the latest study, has called on the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the EU to urgently review their definition of “acceptable” emissions levels amid concern they are still too high. He added: “Our findings suggest that there may not be a truly ‘safe’ level of exposure during pregnancy.

“A foetus with a non-smoking mother exposed to high pollution levels is only slightly better off than one with a smoking mother exposed to low levels of pollution. This implies that the effect of exposure to the highest They detected average concentrations of 7.2 micrograms per metre cubed — well below the annual average of 10 micrograms per metre cubed that is deemed acceptable by WHO.”

Unlike previous air pollution studies, the investigation by Clemens and his team looked at the effect on developing foetuses of microscopic specks of dust and soot that can enter the lungs and bloodstream.

In February, the European Commission admitted that air quality laws had been flouted in more than 130 cities across 23 of the 28 EU member states, including the UK. It is estimated to cut average life expectancy in Scotland by three to four months and causes 2,500 premature deaths.

The UK Government has pledged to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2040 as part of efforts to reduce air pollution from traffic.

It has been estimated that 59 per cent of the British population is living in towns and cities where nitrogen dioxide pollution breaches the lawful level of 40 micrograms per cubic metre of air.

This article originally appeared on The Herald, 28.08.2017             

Is your Building Making you Sick?

Studies say invisible contaminants in indoor air and pollutants emanating from carpets, desks and machines at workplaces are actually making us sick.

We feel the signature symptoms all too well — fatigue, eye, nose and throat irritations to allergies, migraine, headaches, infections and sudden colds and flu. All around us, our officemates are seemingly forever sniffling and coughing — when they are not calling in sick.

Given that most of us spend 90 per cent of our time indoors, especially during the soaring heat and humidity of summer, it’s no surprise that our immune systems are highly vulnerable to poor indoor air quality and stressful work environments.

indoor air quality, healthy home

Scientific studies are beginning to back up our workplace suspicions that desk work is not always favourable to our health and wellbeing.

An avalanche of studies are delivering convincing evidence that invisible contaminants in indoor air, as well as chemical-laden pollutants emanating from carpets, desks and machines at workplaces, are actually making us sick, spurring on absenteeism, lower work output and costing employers untold revenues in lost employee productivity.

There’s even a name for it — Sick Building Syndrome — a malaise thought to be brought on by harmful pollutants in commercial, industrial and home designs.

Long-term, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chemicals that are off-gassing from paints, carpets, laser printers and photocopiers, “are really everywhere and can lead to fateful diseases,” said Farah Yassine, Senior Consultant Sustainable Resource Management, Middle East.

Yassine said a long list of chemical compounds and air particles are found in everything – from desks and office, cleaning agents to mould spores and dust found in air ventilation shafts.

A lot of work remains as well to encourage companies to create more ergonomic offices through less crowded office spaces, more colourful decor and layouts that encourage employees to be more physically active said colleague Matsouki.

This article originally appeared on July 1, 2017.

Indoor Air Pollution Caused by Cookstoves poses Health Risks

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are 4 million premature deaths (predominantly caused by respiratory and cardiovascular diseases) each year attributed to household air pollution created by using wood, coal and other solid fuels for cooking and heating homes.

A novel multi-country trial is being carried out by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with partial support through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to tackle the global health problem. The multimillion-dollar study will determine if using widely available, clean, alternative cooking fuel significantly reduces deaths and illnesses. The 5-year study is part of a broader international effort to research chronic lung diseases which are coordinated by the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (GACD).

The NIH Director Francis S. Collins commented on the matter:

“Indoor air pollution caused by cookstoves is one of the top health risks in developing countries, causing deaths from low birth weight among babies, pneumonia in young children, and heart and lung problems in adults. By working with our global partners on alternative fuel solutions, we have an opportunity to reduce that risk significantly for millions of people.”

According to the WHO, there are approximately 3 billion people worldwide who are reliant on using solid fuels for both cooking and heating. The indoor pollution generated can cause a range of diseases such as pneumonia, heart disease, cancer and chronic lung disease.

The study which is led by Emory University in Atlanta plans to recruit 800 pregnant women at a number of trial sites and will randomly assign half to receive liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) stoves and a supply of gas. The trial will run until the child is 2 years old, a number of medical measurements will be then taken i.e. did the mother suffer from hypertension during pregnancy, the incidence of pneumonia and growth and development of the infants. Addition to this, several hundred older women will be assigned to each site and monitored to assess cardiopulmonary, metabolic and cancer outcomes. Biomarker analysis of blood and urine samples will also be carried out.

This cutting-edge study will hopefully provide an essential insight into the effects of air pollution produced by cookstoves reliant on LPG on health. The trial will also provide scientific evidence of potential alternatives to using solid fuels which may subsequently reduce the number of health issues related to indoor air pollution.

Improved Air Quality Correlated with Controlling Children’s Asthma

Asthma currently affects 1.1 million children in the UK, that’s 1 in 11 children receiving treatment.

Asthma is characterized by coughing, breathing difficulties, chest tightness, shortness of breath and wheezing. It has been previously reported that children with asthma should not be exposed to indoor air that’s contaminated with allergens and pollutants to reduce the risk of asthma attacks. A clinical study carried out by the American Academy of Paediatrics suggests that breathing clean air may be as effective as medications to control the disease. The report also highlights that children are more sensitive to both pollutants and allergens due to a number of biological factors, such as their lungs, brains and immune systems are still at developmental stages and their respiratory tracts are more permeable. Asthma triggers such as dust mites, mould, furry pets, sources of indoor air pollution (e.g. tobacco smoke, gas from cookers and heaters and open fires) and household chemicals such as air fresheners should all be controlled to help reduce asthma attacks and the need for medication.

For further information regarding how to cut down allergens and pollutants in your home, visit:


UNICEF Report: Indoor Air Pollution is Linked with a Range of Respiratory Diseases in Children

In recent years, a vast number of studies have been carried out to explore the detrimental effects of air pollution on health and wellbeing. In a UNICEF report, it was reported that almost one in seven of the world’s children, 300 million, live in areas with high toxic levels of air pollution.

A recent quote from UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake regarding the issues with air pollution suggests an urgency, demanding action to be taken place to combat this global issue.

“Air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five every year – and it threatens the lives and futures of millions more every day. Pollutants don’t only harm children’s developing lungs – they can actually cross the blood-brain barrier and permanently damage their developing brains – and, thus, their futures. No society can afford to ignore air pollution.”

The UNICEF report also highlights the negative implications of indoor air pollution on children; a range of respiratory diseases, as well as pneumonia, are linked with indoor air pollution. Children are more susceptible than adults to indoor air pollution, this is due to a number of biological factors, such as their lungs, brains and immune systems are still at developmental stages and their respiratory tracts are more permeable.

UNICEF is asking world leaders attending the upcoming COP 22 (Marrakesh, Morocco) to take four fundamental steps in their countries to protect children from both indoor and outdoor air pollution.

The Big Four

  • Reduce Air Pollution
  • Increase Children’s Healthcare
  • Minimise Children’s Exposure
  • Monitor Air Pollution

To achieve lower levels of air pollution UNICEF are taking drastic steps to help protect children from a range of life-threatening illnesses on international scale. Lake highlighted the significance of this global problem:

“We protect our children when we protect the quality of our air. Both are central to our future”.

Polluted home air may impede child development

Leading UK indoor air quality expert Professor Hazim Awbi is warning that children’s development could be hindered by poor indoor air quality at home, as well as at school, as a recent study reveals the overwhelmingly negative impact that poor air quality can have on the brain’s function.

Researchers at Harvard University have shown that in buildings specially designed to have low levels of pollutants, occupants have a cognitive function score that is 61% higher than „conventional conditions‟ and in buildings where effective ventilation has been installed, cognitive function is 101% improved. The study builds on research conducted in the UK showing children’s cognitive ability at school, from attention and concentration to memory and recognition, was significantly diminished in classrooms where pollutants had built up due to a lack of effective ventilation.

People in the UK spend around 90% of their time indoors with 47% of us spending over 16 hours a day at home, leading Professor Awbi to warn that children in airtight homes are likely to be at risk of suffering poor cognitive function.

“We know that young children are one of the groups who spend a large amount of time at home, especially during their early, formative years. Where there is a lack of ventilation and where pollutants are allowed to build up, children‟s brain function is affected. Homes are becoming ever more airtight, and if steps are not taken by both homeowners and the government, there could be profound consequences on children‟s learning and development.” Prof Awbi says

Polluted indoor air quality can affect the brain through blood oxygenation in 4 seconds so Professor Awbi, therefore, recommends that: “The best way to prevent indoor air pollution affecting children’s brains is to reduce the levels of potentially dangerous particles by ensuring that homes are effectively ventilated, as allowing pollutants to accumulate reduces air quality and can lead to chronic exposure”.

Polluted indoor air is also linked to a range of health conditions including cardiovascular disease, asthma, allergy, COPD and even cancer. It is estimated that indoor air pollution claims many thousands of lives a year and accounts for the annual loss of 204,129 healthy life years in the UK.

If we are what we eat, what about what we breathe?

It’s time to eat, drink and breathe healthily

We’re frequently bombarded with advice on what we should and shouldn’t eat and how much we should or shouldn’t drink, but no-one ever tells us what we should or shouldn’t breathe – despite the fact that breathing polluted indoor air has been linked to a range of serious health conditions.
We breathe in far more than we eat and drink. On an average day, working-age people eat and drink a combined total of 2.7 litres, yet breathe a staggering 13,000 litres of air.

NHS experts offer wide-ranging advice on how to eat healthily; from 5 fruit and vegetables a day, guideline daily amounts on food products, to advice on red meat intake. The Government also recommend we drink 6-8 glasses of water a day and limit our daily alcohol intake but no advice is issued on what the air we are breathing in could be doing to our bodies, or what we can do about it.

This is despite the fact that we spend up to 90% of our time indoors and breathing polluted indoor air has been linked to allergies, asthma, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, airborne respiratory infections and cardiovascular disease.

Research shows that the best way to tackle indoor air pollution is to make sure that you have effective ventilation. This is because effective ventilation removes indoor air pollutants from the home, stopping them from accumulating and keeping indoor air quality at a healthy level.

Professor Peter Howarth, Consultant Physician at the University of Southampton, said:

“When individuals and families are exposed to a potent mix of airborne pollutants within the home, it is well documented that a range of health conditions occur more frequently. I have had many patients come to me with health problems due to indoor pollutants and this is normally down to poor ventilation and high levels of moisture in the air”.

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.”