Recommendations in new draft guidance published today provide advice on ways to reduce exposure to indoor air pollution in everyday life as well as measures local councils, landlords, architects and builders can take.
Exposure to indoor air pollution from cookers, damp, cleaning products and fires, can irritate the lungs and exacerbate asthma symptoms. The guidance says people should ensure rooms are well ventilated, by opening windows or using extractor fans, when cooking, drying clothes inside, using household sprays or solvents and paints.
People with compromised immune systems such as pregnant women are advised to reduce their use of aerosols and household cleaning sprays which can all emit pollutants. The risk is higher for older people, pregnant women, young children and people with pre-existing medical conditions and people who may have to spend a lot of time at home.
The new guidance comes after NICE published a quality standard on outdoor air pollution earlier this year. Some cities are imposing charges on high polluting vehicles that enter ultra-low emission zones. This guidance aims to raise people’s awareness of the effects of indoor air quality.
Architects and builders are also being asked to adopt a whole-building approach to heating and ventilation in their designs in order to minimise exposure to particulate matter. This includes situating windows away from sources of outdoor air pollution and using building materials that emit low levels of formaldehyde and VOCs.
Professor Gill Leng, deputy chief executive and director of health and social care at NICE said: “Evidence shows that homes with poor air quality are linked to an increase in risk of health problems. Poor ventilation leads to a build-up of pollutants which can exacerbate illnesses such as asthma.
“Councils are in a good position to raise awareness among the general public. It’s important that local authority departments from social housing to providers of social care work together to identify, prevent and improve poor indoor air quality.”
Dr David Rhodes, director of environmental public health at Public Health England said: “Indoor air can be a considerable source of exposure to pollution and these guidelines are a step forward in providing advice to the public, local authorities and the building industry.”
Alan Maryon-Davis, honorary professor of public health, Kings College London and Chair of the NICE Public Health Advisory Committee said: “We are all very aware of the detrimental health effects of outdoor air pollution. But how many of us think about the air quality inside our homes? Many people spend most of their time at home indoors, and the pollutants we create through cooking and cleaning, or those arising from mould or building materials, can all too easily cause or exacerbate respiratory conditions and other health problems.
“It’s really important to raise awareness of this issue and take steps to reduce indoor air pollutants as much as possible, especially for those who are more vulnerable to health problems aggravated by poor indoor air quality. The guideline has been developed with everyone in mind, from local authorities and healthcare professionals to landlords, architects, builders and members of the public themselves, in a concerted effort to encourage healthier indoor air quality.”
Professor Jonathan Grigg, paediatric respiratory consultant from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said: “Since children spend most of their time indoors, the potential for indoor generated pollutants to cause adverse health effects can no longer be ignored. For some indoor generated air pollutants, such as carbon-containing particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, toxic effects on children are the same as their outdoor generated counterparts. For other pollutants, such as indoor generated volatile organic compounds, more research into health effects is urgently needed. This draft guidance from NICE is a welcome step in the right direction towards protecting children’s respiratory health.”
We are asking local authorities to compare their current practice with our recommendations and to consider what changes may need to be made to put them into practice. In considering any changes, they will need to consider any extra costs they may incur. The speed at which these recommendations are adopted by local authorities will depend on the resources they have available and the other priorities they are dealing with.