Clean Air Day is an annual event with the important aim of raising awareness and helping people and businesses to take action on the quality of the air we breathe.
Ahead of this year’s event on 21 June, Global Action Plan, the organisation behind Clean Air Day, has launched a campaign highlighting the dangers of indoor air pollution. When thinking of air pollution, most of us probably think about traffic and industry belching out thick black fumes but indoor air pollution is an invisible danger.
The Clean Air Day campaign says: “Indoor air pollution comes from multiple sources including gas stoves, wood burners, personal care products such as nail varnish and deodorant, burning candles, home cleaning products, and soft furnishings. We spend up to 90% of our time indoors where levels of some pollutants are higher than outside, often without ventilating appropriately.”
Research conducted in advance of Clean Air Day has found that most people in the UK are aware of the health risks posed by outdoor pollution, with 85% of UK adults saying that they knew about these risks. Only about a third (36%) said they were aware of the dangers of indoor pollution. The research also found that three in five (60%) were unaware of actions they could take to reduce air pollution in their homes.
Respondents to the survey were asked about the impact that personal cosmetics could have on indoor air quality. Four-fifths (80%) were aware of the harmful effects that hairspray could have on indoor air, but more than two thirds (68%) were unaware that fake tan products could also have an effect.
The study also found that many households could be contributing to their own air pollution while trying to improve the ambience of their homes. 48% of UK adults said that they burned candles indoors and 53% used air fresheners.
The health impact of outdoor or ambient air pollution has been well-documented. Less research has been undertaken on the impact of indoor air quality, but evidence that does exist suggests it can have a serious impact.
Professor Stephen Holgate, Medical Research Council, Professor at the University of Southampton, said: “Research indicates that indoor air pollution has a significant impact on health - we estimate that this is up to 9,000 deaths per year of the estimated total 40,000 deaths from air pollution overall each year in the UK.
“This is because people spend 90% of their time indoors, often in poorly ventilated homes, and are exposed to a range of toxic air pollutants including formaldehyde and a cocktail of volatile organic compounds. The most significant sources of these pollutants come from cooking on gas, solid-fuel burning stoves, cleaning products, paints and new furniture and furnishings.”
As well as causing thousands of premature deaths each year, poor air quality in the home can also cause or exacerbate illnesses and conditions such as asthma, having a negative impact on the quality of life of thousands of more people.
As Professor Holgate suggests, poor ventilation can add to the problems of indoor air pollution. Natural ventilation, such as air bricks and opened windows might not be enough for many aspects of modern living, but options such as positive input ventilation by supplying a constant supply of fresh filtered air to homes with a loft space can help. Other whole-house ventilation systems can help prevent the build-up of pollution, while extractor fans can help reduce the humidity and pollution in ‘heavy usage’ rooms, such as bathrooms and kitchens.
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