Environmental air pollution is a globally recognised public health crisis that potentially affects every living thing on the planet yet is still largely unrecognised or ignored.
The British government’s advisory committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution states that the average reduction in life expectancy of a British citizen caused by unavoidable exposure to air pollution “is larger than that of several other established mortality risks” including road traffic accidents and passive smoking (COMEAP 2010).
Human activities are at the root of most air quality problems. Geophysical activities such as volcanic eruptions and sandstorms are exceptions.
Key outdoor pollutants include nitrogen and sulphur oxides, ozone and VOCs/particulates from industrial/combustion processes and seasonal organics such as pollen.
Despite recent industry initiatives aimed at increasing public awareness, air pollution in the UK remains is a largely unseen and ignored phenomenon that is damaging the health of the nation and causing tens of thousands deaths every year.
Similarly, indoor air pollution is a growing public health emergency that has been described as the sleeping giant of the future. Most people spend 80-90% of their time indoors so are exposed to indoor air to a far greater extent than outdoor air. There is growing evidence of the linkage between poor indoor air quality and increases in poor mental and physical health, poor productivity at work, short/long term illnesses and premature deaths.
Indoor air pollution has been an increasing problem ever since the early 1970s when we started to build more energy efficient homes. In those days the objective was to save money due to the cost of energy but more recently the objective has changed to combating global warming by reducing carbon emissions. Indeed since 2005 the British government is committed to reducing UK carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. This target was recently increased to net zero or 100%.
Energy efficiency has the effect of sealing up a property which means there is a risk that moisture and pollutants can build up, especially if ventilation is ineffective. This is particular problem in the UK where our world renowned weather always produces cold winters and people keep windows closed.
Problems with indoor air quality include those linked to moisture retention such as condensation, mould & mildew, musty odours and dust mites/allergies. They also include problems linked to the build up of pollutant gases and particulates such as NOX, radon, ozone, traffic soot and pollen from outdoors and CO2, CO, VOCs and cooking/tobacco particulates from indoors ranging from headaches, skin irritations and fatigue affecting productivity to serious respiratory and mental illnesses, cancer and premature death. Children and the elderly are particularly prone to indoor air quality related illnesses.