The following components affect perception of IAQ:
- Thermal Comfort
- Air Movement
Thermal comfort is subjective. Temperature felt is influenced by air/radiant temp plus air movement, humidity and CO2 levels. High humidity typically make people feel warmer and vice versa. Promotes mould and fungi growth and also affects emissions of VOCs due to corrosion from indoor fabrics/furnishings. High CO2 levels correlate with occupant discomfort levels. Research indicates >800 ppm negatively affects health and comfort (workplace). Typical indoor (workplace) concentrations 380-2500 ppm but can increase greatly in poorly ventilated spaces with high occupancy.
IAQ at Home
In the last 50 years more soft furnishings and carpets have been used within buildings resulting in greater chemical emissions into the indoor environment. At the start of the 20th century around 50 materials were used in buildings. Today there are around 55,000 building materials available with over half being man-made.
Significant IAQ problems have been identified with new energy efficient homes which are well insulated and generally poorly ventilated. Indeed, residents of many such homes report health complaints which can be linked to IAQ (nose-eye irritation, headache, tiredness and insomnia).
80-85% of all mould problems are attributed to humidity related (or man-made) dampness (condensation) with only 15-20% is structural related damp. (Allen 1995). Rental homes are more at risk with 1/3 of all privately rented homes not meeting the government’s Decent Homes Standard (DCLG 2014) and 66% of all rented homes containing a hazard posing a serious danger to health with damp and mould the most common (Shelter 2015). According to the BBC (The Week the Landlords Moved In) more than 6 million people in the UK are living with mould.
Click here for more information on common complaints relating to poor IAQ.
Click here for more information on indoor air pollution sources around the home.
Poor IAQ Health Concerns and Effects
Typical generic short term effects of poor IAQ include eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, migraines, nausea, fatigue and dizziness. Typical longer term effects include exacerbation of asthma, chronic OPD and other respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, heart disorders, cancer, mental health and wellbeing conditions and reduced productivity.
There is limited data on sickness within residential homes in the UK but one can draw parallels of sickness in some commercial settings. Federspiel (2001) analysed data from 575 buildings and reported 18.4% were IAQ (77% of these were too hot/cold complaints). Fisk et al (2004) analysed a 72 person office building and found that effective IAQ management reduces annual energy costs and annual sick leave which creates a significant financial and productivity benefit.
To reduce allergies in the home, air filtration was the 4th most common strategy behind no smoking, no pets and washing sheets in hot water and followed by pillow covers, mattress covers, no carpets and use of dehumidifier (in last place). (Roy & Wisnivesky 2010)
The UK has the highest prevalence of asthma (1 in 5 people suffer). On average 3 people a day die from asthma in the UK.
NHS spends £1 billion a year on asthma treatment and care. This cost could be reduced if there was a concerned effort to reduce exposures to causes/triggers.
80% of people with asthma also suffer from hay fever (100% if their asthma is allergic). Also up to 40% of people with hay fever will develop asthma (approx 6.4 million people in 2009 (Nathan))
Hay Fever / Allergies
1 in 4 people in the UK have hay fever.
On average, those with hay fever suffer 8 serious episodes a year with each lasting approx 12 days. 50% of sufferers report impact on sleep patterns. 37% report social lives affected due to having to stay indoors. 30% report reduced exercise time and 22% report reduced quality family time due to hay fever symptoms (Allergy UK 2014). Also, hay fever affects emotions – 51% of sufferers report feeling frustrated and irritable, sluggish and slow. 40% of GCSE students with hay fever are more likely to drop a grade than those without and 70% more likely if they taking sedating antihistamines close to exams.
Public Health Concerns
Riggs (2014) conducted a survey analysing the most significant concerns of Local Authorities and H&S Practitioners. The top concern was cigarette smoke followed by air pollution from cars and factories then drinking alcohol, obesity and chemicals in food/drink. IAQ (HVAC sealed buildings) was ranked 9th and IAQ (naturally ventilated buildings) was ranked 10th out of 13 options.
An EC report in 2004 surveyed 24,798 people from 15 member countries about attitudes/risk perception toward the environment. 45% of citizens reported concern about air pollution and 35% reported concern about chemicals within everyday products. In 2011 a similar survey showed 35% of citizens reporting concern for air pollution, demonstrating a reduction in concern. Similarly, 94% of people in 2004 agreed that the state of the environment influences the quality of life which reduced to 85% in 2011 (put down to the global economic situation).
COMEAP (2011) reviewed the public’s perception of air pollution and reported “there is both a lack of awareness amongst the public regarding the links between air pollution and ill health, and a lack of understanding concerning existing air quality information”.
Odours can influence the assessment of indoor and outdoor air quality. Risk perception and the correlated personal perception of health risks of an individual are important factors to consider within the IAQ discussion (although caution should be applied to skewing overreaction to risk whereby the public demands remediation even when experts judge the risk to be low/non existent).
In 2013, the Eurobarometer interviewed 25,557 citizens across 27 member countries to understand awareness of chemicals within products we eat/drink (83%) and whether they believe the air they breathe contains chemicals (90%). Also 69% said it was not possible to completely eliminate chemical substances from our daily life and 58% said new chemical substances can help reduce the use of natural resources (although only 43% said this can contribute to a better environment).
Poor IAQ can have both physical and psychological effects on occupants. When assessing IAQ health risk must consider a) dose/multiple doses, b) exposure duration, c) vulnerability and d) perception of risk.
During inhalation, PM > 5 microns trapped by cilia in airways. PM < 5 microns enter lungs
Acute (immediate/short term) effects are often reversible. Chronic (long term) effects are often irreversible ie. lung cancer from radon, leukaemia from benzene. Allergies and asthma are by far the most common of all chronic diseases compared to heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Sick Building Syndrome
Building related illness or allergic rhinitis affects 1 in 5 people in the UK and is caused by inhaled/ingested allergens ie. pollen, dust, mould, skin. Asthma triggers include smoke, chemical odours, NO2, dust, dust mites, moulds, pet dander etc.
Hypersensitivity pneumonitis caused by body’s immune reaction to bacteria, mould and fungi.
Legionnaire’s disease spread by the air (bacteria on water droplets)
Multi chemical sensitivities are caused by various contributors – synthetic scents, VOCs, formaldehyde, solvents, ammonia, chlorine, hydrocarbons etc.
Neurotoxic disorders which affect the brain are caused by formaldehyde and other VOCs.
Comfort and productivity are negatively affected by poor IAQ which is a recurring trend across all research. UK HSE estimates 2,500 ppm CO2 is equal to 0.8 alcohol concentration in blood which is above the legal driving limit.
Sensitive population groups include children who when exposed to high VOC levels are 4 times more likely to develop asthma than adults. Also new/expectant mothers, older adults and asthmatics are more susceptible to indoor air pollution.
In 2005 WHO predicted of the 578,000 predicted deaths in the UK, 38% would be from cardiovascular, 25% cancer and 7% respiratory disease or 70% in total from chronic illnesses. WHO also estimates a 2% reduction in chronic disease death rates would produce a $2billion economic gain over 10 years. It is estimated 18 million people suffer from a chronic disease which account for 80% of GP consultations. Improvements in IAQ and upstream support ie. biomonitoring may help reduce long term healthcare costs.
There are five main IAQ pollutant categories:
- Inorganic Gaseous Pollutants
- Inorganic Particulates
- Organic Particulates/Biologicals
Click here on this link for more detailed information on these categories
Widespread use of fragrances and scents and its impact on IAQ
1 in 5 people in the US experience adverse health effects from synthetic fragrance exposure (15-30% of general population report sensitivity to chemicals including fragrances). Hay fever and asthma are found in 15-20% of Americans and synthetic fragrances can exacerbate these problems.
In the mid 1990s Rolls Royce recreated the smell of traditional materials from the 1965 Silver Cloud 1 model to recreate their earlier smell of unique luxury which was so successful they bottled the brand. They had become an inadvertent innovator in scent marketing.
95% of fragrance chemicals used today are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum including benzene derivatives and aldehydes which can cause asthma, cancer, affect the central nervous system, weaken the immune system and damage brain tissue. 84% of these have never been tested for human toxicity. In 1989, National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health recognised 884 substances from a list of 2,983 chemicals used in the fragrance industry as capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders, allergic respiratory reactions and skin/eye irritations.
75% of known asthmatics have attacks which are triggered by perfumes.
Powerful advertising encourages us to immerse ourselves every day in these harmful pollutants.
Inhaling fragrances can trigger migraines, affect ability to concentrate, dizziness and fatigue and also contribute toward Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Sprays/aerosols cause substances to be dissipated into tiny particles that can be breathed into the deepest lung recesses. Deodorant aerosols can increase risk of Alzheimer’s by up to 3 times. A room containing an air freshener has high levels of p-dichlorobenzene (carcinogen) and ethanol. Mothers who use air fresheners suffer 10% more headaches than others.
Fragrance free or unscented does not guarantee the product does not contain fragrance chemicals. It may contain a masking fragrance. Labelling standards/regulations for such products do not require the content to be indicated which creates confusion with consumers who think a product may be scent free and means harmful chemicals are being dissipated without any notification to consumers.
New car smell contains a number of harmful chemicals including antimony, bromine, chlorine and lead. Exposure contribute to many acute and long term health issues. The first smelling mobile phones were introduced in 2008 and patents have been awarded for phones with a smell chip that allows sending/receiving smell messages – a possible future for mobile advertising (emotional messages via senses).
Canada and the US have recognised the impact of scents within an enclosed environment. Canadian authorities have been driving the “No Scent, Make Sense” campaign since 2010. The US Social Security Administration recognises Multiple Chemical Sensitivity/Environmental Illness (MSC/EI) as a disability. There are some positive influences – NYC Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre disperses vanilla scented oil to help patients cope with the claustrophobic effects of MRI testing and scents are used on the CBOT trading floor to lower the decibel level.
The issue of fragrance may be as controversial as today’s tobacco smoke issue. The debate over people’s right to smoke versus others’ right to breathe clean air could also be applied to fragrances. Second hand smoke contains >4,000 chemicals including at least 69 carcinogens. The Institute of Medicine placed fragrance in the same category as second hand smoke in triggering asthma in adults and school age children. Many of the chemicals in perfumes are the same chemicals that are in cigarette smoke such as benzene, formaldehyde and toluene.
The UK has changed to law relating to the responsiveness of the hazards of tobacco smoking which has created a paradox. Unpleasant smells such as smoke and paint fumes are unacceptable yet the use of perfumes and scent marketing is growing at an alarming rate, unregulated and using unlabelled ingredients which are harmful and are designed to suspend pollutants in the air for far longer than known hazards like tobacco smoke. See Lenor Unstoppables – current TV ads are purely about scent lasting 12 weeks yet online feedback shows the scent is made up of harmful pollutants.
Most indoor air contaminant comes from products used to contract the building or from internal furnishings yet the availability of low emission products throughout Europe is varied. Some countries have emission classification schemes. The UK has no such scheme although some companies participate in industry based schemes that produce ECO-labels for various products. In the UK, VOC content is labelled using one of 5 classifications – Minimal (0-0.29%), Low, Medium, High & Very High (>50% VOC content).
In 2007, the Code for Sustainable Homes was developed by the Dept of Communities and Local Government but the recommendations for low emission products being used in relation to IAQ and for the testing of the building prior to completion were excluded from the code without explanation. This meant the initiative failed to balance the needs of sustainable living and the health impact of the occupants.
6 top selling laundry products and air fresheners found nearly 100 VOCs were emitted and 5 of the 6 emitted more than one carcinogen with no safe exposure level.
The demands for a fragrance free workplace are following the same trajectory as the second hand smoke discussions but the movement is still in its infancy. Most organisations that have implemented fragrance free have done so reactively rather than proactively.