A new Clean Air Act should include measures supporting the role of buildings as ‘safe havens’ from pollution, according to the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA).
Environmental campaigners, health bodies and industry groups have launched a campaign to force the government to take “urgent action” on air pollution by creating new legislation, 60 years after the original Act was created to tackle urban smog.
British Lung Foundation chief executive Dr Penny Woods said air pollution was now a “public health crisis” contributing up to 40,000 early deaths a year across the UK.
“Toxic air is a risk to everyone, but hits those with a lung condition, children and the elderly hardest,” she said. “We need a new, fair and ambitious Clean Air Act, with targets to slash pollution levels across the country and to remove the most polluting vehicles from our towns and cities.”
However, while tackling emissions from transport is vital, BESA believes much could also be achieved in a shorter time frame by focussing on how building occupants can be protected from rising external pollution.
“People spend more than 80% of their time indoors and there is still a lot more we can do to improve indoor air quality (IAQ),” said chief executive Paul McLaughlin. “A series of low-cost maintenance measures to ensure ventilation systems work properly and incoming air is filtered and cleaned would make a major difference to the health and well-being of building occupants.
“Reducing toxic emissions from vehicles and industrial processes is vital, but will take many years to produce results and involve major long-term investment. Improving building ventilation is a quick and relatively painless process that can be tackled today to help protect people in the meantime. Building owners also have a duty of care to protect the health of their tenants and employees.”
BESA commissioned a YouGov survey last year that found almost 70% of office workers believed poor air quality in their place of work was having a negative impact on their day-to-day productivity and well-being. A third were also concerned that poor IAQ was damaging their health.
“A well-sealed building envelope combined with effective filtration of incoming supply air can reduce particle penetration by 78%,” said Mr McLaughlin. “Considerable investment has already been made in improving the airtightness of buildings to reduce energy consumption and that same process can be used to manage air quality.
“The general public already understands the impact temperature has on healthy and productive conditions inside buildings – we now need to stress that the same principle should apply to air quality,” said Mr McLaughlin. “When it is too hot or cold outside, people now expect to be able to enjoy comfortable temperatures inside. They should also expect similar protection from rising air pollution.”
BESA’s own ‘Guide to Good Practice – Internal Cleanliness of Ventilation Systems’ (TR/19) includes step-by-step guidance and references UK and international standards. Detailed service and maintenance schedules can also be set up by using the Association’s widely adopted SFG20 online tool, which includes specific tasks related to air quality in all building types.