How is indoor air pollution damaging our children?

IEA climate services expert joins first UK investigation into the potentially harmful impact of indoor air pollution on children

Working Party on Indoor Air Quality & Child Health

Posted August 2018

By Sally Stevens

Marketing & Communications Manager, IEA

Briony Turner, the IEA’s Climate Services Development Manager, is part of an innovative new working party exploring the impact of poor indoor air quality on children from their development in the womb to adulthood.

Briony has already played a key role in establishing the new Working Party on Indoor Air Quality & Child Health. Led by Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) in collaboration with the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), the group launched in June [2018] and is now reviewing evidence from industry and academia ahead of consulting with young people and families.

“Indoor air pollution is often overlooked,” says Briony. “When the 2016 report Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution*, examined the impact of exposure to air pollution across the course of a lifetime it found factors such as location of buildings in areas of poor outdoor air quality, building design, the building itself, its ventilation, the materials from which it is built and those with which it is decorated, faulty boilers, open fires as well as fittings, furnishings, cleaning and personal care products can cause poor air quality in our homes, workspaces and schools.

“The average adult in the UK spends 92% of their time indoors on a weekly basis, just 2 hours a day outdoors*. During that time, the possible health consequences of exposure to poor indoor air quality include but are not limited to: asthma, respiratory irritation, effects on the heart, and cancer, as well as headaches, tiredness and loss of concentration.” **

Prof Stephen Holgate first approached Briony while she was working at the ARCC network (Adaptation and Resilience in the Context of Change) to help bring together the medical and built environment communities. As a result the ‘Better homes, better air, better health’*** event in April, 2017, brought together professionals from across the research, industry, policy and third sector communities to think about and inform future action on the solutions and knowledge needs for reducing exposure to air pollution when indoors over occupants’ life-course and building lifetimes.

The discussion highlighted that many of the attendees felt that poor indoor air quality in UK homes was at a scale and magnitude that warranted national-level attention and action. The strength of feeling resulted in unanimous support to set up an interdisciplinary Working Party on Indoor Air Quality with a life-course focus, with particular consideration given to the impact of poor indoor air quality on children’s health and wellbeing.

Since then Briony has been working in a voluntary capacity with Prof Holgate and Prof Jonathan Grigg (co-chairs of the working party) to secure funding, establish the working party and its high quality technical advisory group.

It was formally launched in June this year**** [2018], to coincide with World Clean Air Day.

Briony says: “I feel passionately that we should be creating the best available environment for children whether at home or at school.

“We have world class research in this country on indoor air quality, on children’s health and the built environment. But I had been disheartened to find a lack of integration of this research and the latest medical evidence into built environment professional practice. So it was exciting to be approached by the medical community and to find out they had similar concerns and a willingness to do something about it.”

The working party, which combines medical, environmental and built environment expertise, has commissioned a systematic review of evidence of health effects of air pollutants found in children’s homes and schools, funded by Dyson Technology, which is due to publish in Autumn 2018. Its findings will underpin the next stage of the working party, providing the evidence to develop recommendations and highlight areas where further research and technical investigation are needed.

Briony will work with Prof Alan Short of the University of Cambridge to consider social policy and change, health economics and the impact of climate change for the report.

Briony adds: “To date there has been no work to systematically review the evidence of medical impacts of poor indoor air quality exposure across the life-course of children, from in the womb, to age 18, in relation to how these risks could be mitigated across the variety of indoor environments children are exposed within, in the UK.

“In order for those devising solutions to move forwards, we need to bring together the often localised/building typology and, or, health condition specific evidence and use it to provide a comprehensive state of knowledge, open access, to help those working in an evidence based manner to devise solutions that mitigate this health risk and produce not just safe indoor environments, but homes and schools our children can flourish in.”

Read Briony’s blog Indoor Air Quality and Climate Change

Children air quality
PHOTO: Andrew Seaman, Unsplash [posed by models]
Briony Turner, climate, IEA Space4Climate S4C
Briony Turner, Climate Services Development Manager, Institute for Environmental Analytics & Space4Climate