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Chief Medical Officer calls for regular air quality monitoring in public buildings

The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) has welcomed another intervention by England’s Chief Medical Officer in the controversy surrounding poor air quality in buildings.

Professor Chris Whitty has called for offices and public buildings – including hospitals, schools, and supermarkets, to be regularly monitored for indoor air pollutants. He believes analysing the indoor air quality of many buildings should be made ‘standard practice’, and that more investment is needed to tackle the problem in homes. He also called for investment in creating ‘indoor emission inventories’ as part of ‘a roadmap to cleaner indoor air’.

The Professor’s call follows his 2022 annual report where he wrote that IAQ should be made a priority, as it was becoming ‘an increasing proportion of the overall problem’, with progress being made on tackling outdoor pollution. He pointed out that most people in developed countries spent more than 80% of their time indoors.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has established that, globally, 3.8 million premature deaths worldwide are linked to poor indoor air out of a total of 8.7 million from general air pollution. “Indoor air pollution hasn’t received the same attention as outdoor air, even though it might cause almost as many deaths globally,” wrote the Professor in a co-authored article in the journal, Nature. “The lack of research makes it hard for governments to target policies and controls, while building owners may be oblivious to the health risks and how to reduce them.”

The Professor has acknowledged that IAQ is ‘a complex problem, because it varies dramatically from one building to another’, adding that VOCs levels can differ by a factor of 1,000 in identical houses on the same street, due to different occupant behaviour or ventilation systems.

BESA’s Nathan Wood (pictured, with Rosamund Kissi-Debrah) believes detailed monitoring is ‘a vital first step on the road to producing a more targeted IAQ strategy’, with the technology ‘already widely available, affordable, and becoming increasingly accurate’. “The pandemic drew attention to the link between poor ventilation and the disease transmission around buildings, and this accelerated the adoption of IAQ monitoring,” said Nathan Wood, who is chair of BESA’s Health & Well-being in Buildings group. “We are now well placed to assess the scale and nature of the challenge, including analysing the cocktail of contaminants that can lead to indoor air being many times more polluted than the outdoors. However, showing someone they have a problem is only the start. They must then be shown how to address the problem through competent professional advice and the use of proven solutions.”

BESA is also supporting the proposed Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill, currently progressing through Parliament, which would introduce specific responsibilities for building operators to meet IAQ targets in line with WHO guidance. Also known as Ella’s Law in memory of Ella Kissi-Debrah, who died 10 years ago this month from a severe asthma attack triggered by air pollution, the Bill is being spearheaded by Ella’s mother Rosamund. who has become a prominent air quality campaigner, and is Honorary President of the BESA group. BESA has produced a series of guides on addressing indoor air quality and building ventilation, which are freely available on its website.


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