Indoor Air Quality – The Next Big Planning Issue?

Posted in Indoor Air Quality on July 19, 2017

The Mayor of London is considering a proposal to make Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) one of the requirements developers have to satisfy in order to receive planning permission. This could be a game changer in efforts to protect building occupants from the worst impacts of rising outdoor pollution.

It would also be a major opportunity for ventilation hygiene and facilities maintenance contractors to help transform buildings into ‘safe havens’ particularly for those with respiratory and heart conditions that are exacerbated by airborne contaminants.

The idea, supported by the Clean Air in London campaign, is that buildings over a certain size will be required to meet specified IAQ standards as part of the revised London Plan that sets the framework for planning across the capital. The Mayor Sadiq Khan has made air quality a top priority for his time in office and is known to be supportive of the proposal. Clean Air in London founder Simon Birkett said that improving IAQ was the single thing that the country could do quickest in the face of alarming levels of outdoor pollution.

“Many roads in London have the highest concentrations of NO2 in the world,” he told a recent CIBSE meeting. “A myopic focus on energy efficiency and CO2 has led to the problems we have now.”

He pointed out that the Building Regulations already contain requirements for NO2 levels and the proliferation of individual, portable air monitors on smart phones etc. meant people were starting to challenge their employers over air quality in workplaces.

“People spend about 90% of their time indoors and the cost of filtration is about 10% of the cost of actually getting air into the building,” said Mr Birkett. “The cost of filters is tiny compared to salaries and the impact of poor air quality on people’s health and productivity.”

The World Health Organisation has produced some alarming statistics about the impact of poor air quality on human health worldwide.

  • More than 25% of all child deaths globally are attributable to unhealthy environments including indoor and outdoor air pollution;
  • There are 360,000 premature deaths in the EU every year as a result of worsening air pollution – around 40,000 of which are in the UK;
  • 1.7 million children under 5 years of age die every year as a result of the poor state of their living environment with air pollution a major contributor;
  • Somewhere between 11 and 14% of children aged 5 years and older worldwide display asthma symptoms and an estimated 44% of these are related to environmental exposures including air pollution, second-hand tobacco smoke, and indoor mould and damp;
  • Infants and pre-schoolers exposed to indoor and outdoor air pollution have an increased risk of pneumonia in childhood, and a lifelong increased risk of chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma.

Biological pollutants can cause coughing, sneezing, dizziness, shortness of breath and even fevers; while excess chemicals in the air can lead to serious respiratory problems and lung disease. They also exacerbate existing heart conditions.

We are all familiar with the principle of controlling temperature inside buildings to improve comfort and health. When it is too hot or cold outside, people expect to be able to step into comfortable conditions inside. The same principle should apply to air pollution – with people expecting a similar protection from outside conditions.

Ensuring that ventilation and air conditioning systems are properly maintained and cleaned is an easy place to start and it delivers a pay back – both in economic terms and positive impact on occupant health – almost instantly.

Of course, we should also be working urgently towards reducing toxic emissions from vehicles and industrial processes, but that will take many years to produce results and involve major long-term investment. Improving building ventilation is a quick and relatively painless process and making it part of the planning process would transform the way buildings are designed with ventilation in mind.

This would make systems easier to maintain and put IAQ at the forefront of building engineering designs – a major step forward.

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