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New government can afford to get radical on air quality

According to the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA), the new government has a fantastic opportunity to make radical changes to indoor air quality (IAQ) policies and tackle a growing health emergency in buildings.

BESA said the government’s comfortable majority should give it the confidence to enshrine a series of “bold measures” in its proposed Environment Bill that could transform health and well-being in buildings.

BESA recently launched a 'Building Safe Havens' campaign aimed at promoting the concept of indoor clean air zones that protect occupants from the worst impacts of air pollution – reflecting the fact that most people spend an average of 90 per cent of their lives indoors.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) says living in a British city raises the risk of early death by the same amount as smoking 150 cigarettes a year and that particulate matter is responsible for 11,000 coronary heart disease and stroke deaths each year.

New research carried out by Southampton University professor Stephen Holgate, a world authority on asthma who is leading a review of IAQ on behalf of the Royal College of Physicians, revealed that indoor air can be 13 times more polluted than the air outside the building, but that it can be controlled through a combination of improved building systems and occupant behaviour.

BESA is calling on the government to make measuring and monitoring of IAQ mandatory in the proposed Bill – specifically airborne particulates PM2.5 and below; along with CO2 levels; and VOCs, which are linked to heart and lung diseases as well as certain cancers. There is also a growing problem with NOx emissions from transport, which is known to cause inflammation of the airways, reduce lung function and increase the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.

It also proposed the adoption of the latest filtration standard (ISO16890) in building regulations that would allow building engineers to tackle even the very smallest particulates including PM1, which has been identified as a Group One carcinogen by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and was linked in recent studies to early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

The Association also backed a recommendation from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) that the relevant building regulations (Parts F and L) are closely aligned to ensure improvements in energy efficiency (Part L) do not lead to overheating and lack of effective mechanical ventilation.

Schools are a particular area of concern, so BESA has recommended that air quality checks become a mandatory part of OFSTED inspections particularly in high risk urban areas and close to busy roads. Similarly, for hospitals and other healthcare facilities particular standards of clean air should be mandated.

This work could be supported by improving the system of air quality management areas (AQMAs) that are administered by local authorities. While many exist, their information is not routinely shared with the public or the industry. The Bill could ensure that regular alerts are issued when there are spikes in local air pollution and the information gathered should become a consideration for officials considering planning applications.

BESA also recommended that the Bill contain provision for measures that improve IAQ, such as filter cleaning and replacement along with ductwork and fan maintenance, be made mandatory elements of regular service and maintenance programmes in commercial buildings.

This should be accompanied by government advice on widely available solutions such as clean air technologies and probiotic cleaning products along with digital measuring, monitoring and control of air quality and mechanical ventilation systems.

Nathan Wood, chair of BESA’s health and well-being in buildings group, said: “This is a once in a generation opportunity for us to get proper standards of measurement, monitoring and improvement of IAQ enshrined in legislation.

“There is so much evidence gathered by the medical profession, which clearly shows the link between poor air quality and serious health conditions. At the same time, the building engineering sector now has a range of proven techniques that are already making a difference in many buildings.

“Legislation would allow us to roll out those solutions on a much wider scale and give potentially lifesaving protection to those most vulnerable to the impact of indoor pollution.”

2 January 2020

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