William Eichler 28 January 2020

Indoor air pollution linked to respiratory problems in children

Doctors call for local authorities to be given more powers to deal with air quality in homes and schools as a new study links indoor air pollution with respiratory problems in children.

A joint report by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and the Royal College of Physicians links indoor air pollution to a range of childhood health problems including asthma, wheezing, conjunctivitis, dermatitis, and eczema.

Sources of indoor air pollution include smoking, damp, the burning of fossil fuels and wood, dust, chemicals from building materials and furnishings, aerosol sprays, and cleaning products.

The report, which is informed by a RCPCH commissioned systematic review of 221 studies, warns that indoor air quality tends to be poorer in low quality housing where ventilation may be inadequate.

The report’s authors recommend that councils be given the power to require improvements where air quality fails to meet minimum standards in local authority schools and houses.

If the powers already exist, then they should be extended beyond damp and mould to include other pollutants, according to the authors.

The report recommends that there should be legally binding performance standards for indoor air quality which include ventilation rates, maximum concentration levels for specific pollutants, labelling of materials, and testing of appliances.

It also calls for air quality tests when local authority construction is complete and before the building is signed off, as well as compliance tests after construction stages and assessment of buildings once occupied.

‘We’re finally paying attention to the quality of our outdoor air and this is long overdue. It’s harder to get population level data on the quality of indoor air but the evidence in this report paints a worrying picture,’ said Professor Jonathan Grigg, paediatric respiratory consultant from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

‘Children in the UK spend most of their time indoors, with just 68 minutes spent outside on an average day. Too many of our homes and schools are damp and poorly ventilated – this is adversely affecting the health of children.’

Professor Stephen Holgate, special advisor for the Royal College of Physicians, comment: ‘Poorer households have fewer choices about where to live and where to go to school.

‘More than three million families live in poor quality housing in the UK. Most will not have enough money to make improvements and have no option but to make do with damp, under-ventilated environments.

‘We need to offer support at local authority level – likewise with schools. If we ask our children to spend their childhood days in unhealthy spaces, then we’re storing up problems for future health.’

The report recommends local authorities should follow the NICE guidelines for ‘Indoor air quality at home’.

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