A publication by Britain’s leading medical practitioners has expressed concern over poor air quality, backing it with evidence in the form of pointing out the links between pollution and a worrying range of health issues.

Both outdoor and indoor air quality is being targeted by roleplayers around the globe. Image credit: Denys Nevozhai | Unsplash

Both outdoor and indoor air quality is being targeted by roleplayers around the globe. Image credit: Denys Nevozhai | Unsplash

The Royal College of Physicians publication Every breath we take: The lifelong impact of air pollution notes that both outdoor and indoor pollutants can create many health risks, including cancer, asthma, strokes, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and changes linked to dementia.

Much of the current focus in the UK is around reducing pollution from diesel vehicles, and one of the key conclusions of the report is the need to ‘strengthen our understanding of the key risk factors and effects of poor air quality in our homes, schools and workplaces.’ The report notes that therefore it is essential to better measure and monitor indoor air quality.

“Beyond better-known indoor pollutants such as second-hand tobacco smoke, there are other risks that occupants can be exposed to, ranging from NO2 from gas cooking to solvents that slowly seep from plastics, paints and furnishings to, ironically, air fresheners which can react chemically to generate air pollutants,” notes the report.

Ventilation technology in a variety of forms – from MVHR (mechanical ventilation with heat recovery) to positive input ventilation – can provide a healthy air supply, filtering out pollutants, while also performing another key air quality role in preventing the build-up of condensation, which can in turn create lung-damaging mould spores.

HVAC representative bodies believe that buildings can provide a necessary defence against outdoor air pollution too – in the words of one, “stopping air pollution at the door”. In this context, the age-old method of simply opening windows for ventilation will only serve to bring the pollution into the building.

The Building Engineering Services Association claims by contrast that ‘a well-sealed building envelope combined with effective filtration of incoming air can reduce particle penetration by 78%.’

Campaigners continue to call for new legislation to reduce outdoor pollution, while HVAC bodies are calling for improved air quality standards in buildings too, such as using Building Regulations to mandate use of mechanical ventilation.

There is also recent research evidence that good air quality in offices can improve the thinking of workers too. A study by three universities – Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health, State University of New York’s Upstate Medical University and Syracuse University concluded that improved indoor environmental quality significantly improved cognitive function.

The study found that employees’ cognitive performance scores averaged 101 per cent higher in green building environments with enhanced ventilation compared to a conventional building environment.

This study suggests that ‘indoor environments can have a profound impact on the decision-making performance of workers, which is a primary indicator of worker productivity’ according to Dr Joseph Allen of TH Chan – the principal investigator for the study.

So, mechanical ventilation and air conditioning systems that are fitted with appropriate filters (drop-in NOx filters to defend against the effects of outdoor diesel can now be purchased alongside conventional filters) should increasingly be seen as an essential specification to ensure better air quality to improve the health – and productivity – of occupants.