We are in the midst of a health crises, but most of us are unaware of it.
The Government’s Clean Air Strategy 2019 puts air pollution as the fourth greatest threat to public health, behind cancer, heart disease and obesity. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that every year, exposure to air pollution causes 7 million premature deaths worldwide. In the UK alone, Public Health England estimates 28,000 – 36,000 deaths a year can be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution, making it the biggest environmental threat to health in our country.
- Improve public understanding of air pollution and how air pollution affects our health.
- Explain the easy actions we can all do to tackle air pollution, helping to protect the environment and our health.
- Encourage individuals and organisations to take air pollution reducing actions and make changes to everyday practice.
Let’s address each of these aims in turn.
Understand air pollution
2022’s Clean Air Day theme is ‘air pollution dirties every organ in the body’. Air pollution can harm every organ, can shorten our lives, and contribute towards chronic illness. When we breathe polluted air, it can inflame the lining of our lungs and move into our bloodstream ending up in the heart and brain, causing lung disease, heart disease, dementia and strokes.
Sources of air pollution are varied.
Externally, NOx (the collective name for Oxides of Nitrogen, with NO and NO² having the most effect on the environment and human health) and PM2.5 (particulate matter which is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets such as soot) are the main offenders. The key emissions sources for these are transport and domestic fossil fuel burning respectively.
Indoors, however, we not only have to contend with these emissions entering our homes through windows, around closed doors, etc., but we also have pollutants which are generated by activities conducted within the house. Using every day items that burn fossil fuels, such as gas cookers and heaters, increase particulate matter (PM) indoors. Standard cleaning equipment often contains harmful toxins that accumulate indoors and linger. Even seemingly innocuous items such as furniture can release potentially harmful pollutants in the form of VOCs. Individually, these pose a risk to health, but when they react together that risk may well become considerable heightened; sadly, there’s very little research in this area, so we are rather in the dark.
Actions to tackle air pollution
What can we realistically do? There are steps we can all take as individuals and there are also steps we can take as a collective industry.
- Walk or cycle short trips rather than using the car
- No matter how nice they might seem, stop using wood burning stoves and open fires
- Avoid burning household and garden waste; your neighbours will thank you for sure!
- Use fragrance-free eco-friendly personal and household cleaning products
- Switch to non-aerosol products
- Ventilate your home by opening windows if you live in less polluted areas and be sure to turn on cooker hoods and extraction fans when needed. If you are lucky enough to have a mechanical ventilation system, be sure to use it and follow the instructions, including filter changing requirements.
Collectively, as an industry:
- Move away from fossil fuel appliances in new build domestic dwellings
- Carefully consider the materials used to build homes in relation to VOCs and other potentially harmful pollutants
- Ensure effective ventilation by using mechanical ventilation systems
When it comes to ventilation, revised Building Regulations Part F published in December 2021 requires all new homes to be tested for airtightness and has increased the minimum ventilation rates across all sizes of properties to ensure incoming air reaches all parts of a home – especially the bedrooms. Mechanical ventilation systems – Mechanical Extract Ventilation (MEV) and Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) – are recognised as the most proficient means of achieving this.
Encourage others to make changes
Talk about air pollution! Whether it’s with family, friends or colleagues, we need to get the message out there: air pollution is a genuine danger, but one that we can address. As Prof Sir Chris Whitty said at the London Clean Air and Health Summit in February of this year: “This is a solvable problem. The real place we need to tackle air pollution is where people live, work, study, play. Many of the things that drive pollution where people live and work and study are entirely amenable to us engineering out of the problem”.
Clean Air Day is a good focus for getting this message across. Domus Ventilation is supporting Clean Air Day through a series of short animations distributed across social media channels. These 15 second videos each focus on a different subject relating to air pollution, from steps to improve your health (including walking rather than driving short distances) through to indoor air pollution, its sources and actions you can take to improve indoor air quality. You can access the videos from https://www.linkedin.com/company/domusventilation/ Please share them if you can and help spread the message about the dangers of air pollution.
About Domus Ventilation
Domus Ventilation is a manufacturer of market-leading ventilation systems that save energy and improve indoor air quality.