Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is the quickest and cheapest way to protect people from worsening air pollution, according to one of the country’s foremost clean air campaigners.
Speaking at a special IAQ event held to mark the UK’s first ever National Clean Air Day on 15 June, Clean Air in London founder Simon Birkett said IAQ must become part of the building planning process.
He told the meeting, which was organised and hosted by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA), that specialist engineers could play a key role by turning buildings into ‘safe havens’ capable of protecting the health and welfare of occupants.
Mr Birkett commented: “European citizens spend on average over 90% of their time indoors, which means we can protect ourselves from 90% of air pollutants for up to 90% of the time by using good quality air filters and making sure they are properly maintained.
“We would like to see this reflected in the new London Plan (the Mayor of London’s planning framework currently under consultation),” added Mr Birkett, who called on the experts assembled by BESA to help inform the consultation process.
The Association used the occasion to unveil plans for the industry’s first comprehensive IAQ Standard and kicked of the writing process with a workshop involving representatives from across the building services sector.
Mr Birkett said this work could help to inform future government policies, which he said needed to be integrated to reflect the fact that we are dealing with “one atmosphere”, so that measures covering air, energy and transport are all part of the same regulatory framework.
“It is the myopic focus since 1990 on CO2 and fuel efficiency that has created this mess, and now many roads in Central London have the highest NO2 concentrations in the world,” he added.
The growth in the amount of harmful particles (PM 1, PM2.5, PM10) and gases such as NO2 and ozone is responsible for up to 9,400 premature deaths every year in London, compared to 8,500 from smoking, according to Mr Birkett, who said there was clear scientific evidence linking pollution to increased rates of cardiovascular disease.
He also pointed to the impact on the development of children’s lungs and that, once lost, lung capacity could never be recovered, condemning the current generation of children attending schools close to busy roads to long-term health problems.
He urged building occupants to challenge their building managers to ensure mechanical ventilation systems were properly installed and maintained. He also cited British and European standard BS:EN 13779 (2012), which specifies the necessary filter performance for good indoor air quality.
“Building owners should consider the total cost of a measure - not just the impact on energy use,” said Mr Birkett. “They need to consider the overall impact on building occupants. The cost of filtration is tiny compared to the health and productivity of people.”
AECOM’s director of sustainability, Ant Wilson MBE, told the meeting that work on an IAQ Standard was an opportunity to create guidance that could eventually become a legal requirement.
“Lots of the industry’s most established guidance, such as BREEAM, started out as advisory, but was gradually adopted as mandatory by people like local authority planning officers,” he said.
A YouGov survey carried out by BESA last year showed that 70% of office workers were concerned about the impact of poor IAQ on their health, and National Clean Air Day saw the release of further analysis from organisers, Global Action Plan.
It revealed that the British public was now prepared to spend the equivalent of £1 billion a year on cleaning up air pollution, with two thirds of 2,000 adults surveyed saying they would agree to spend an average of £2.59 each month on clean air measures.
Eight in 10 were concerned about how air pollution will affect their health, according to GAP’s research, which also revealed that, while heart conditions cause the majority of premature deaths from outdoor pollution, 75% of adults did not realise the extent to which air pollution affects the heart.
“When I told a meeting of architects last year that the biggest issue facing the built environment sector was air quality, they scoffed at me,” said BESA’s head of sustainability, David Frise. He added: “Since then, the weight of scientific evidence has been piling up and I don’t think they would be so dismissive now.”