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News & Press: Environment News

Nearly Half of UK Homes Have High Indoor Air Pollution - New Report

06 June 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Phil Underwood

Nearly half of UK homes have high indoor air pollution as a result of dangerous levels of formaldehyde and other pollutants - new report

  • A fifth of homes showed more than double the amount of safe levels of formaldehyde
  • 45% of homes had significantly increased levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) - with 28% of householders in homes with high VOC readings reporting multiple respiratory difficulties
  • 98% of householders didn’t identify chipboard furniture as one of their top sources of pollution - chipboard is a major source of formaldehyde
  • Leading authority on air pollution reveals health conditions linked to indoor air pollution, including asthma, cardiovascular disorders, thyroid disease, diabetes, impaired cognition and cancer.

A new report on the state of air pollution in UK households has found that our homes are experiencing dangerous levels of indoor air pollution. The report, analysing data from 47 homes in Birmingham, London and the Home Counties, is being launched in partnership with the Clean Air Day campaign, and was undertaken by indoor air experts Airtopia.

Formaldehyde, among other air pollutants, was identified as one of the most toxic pollutants prevalent in UK homes. Formaldehyde is a human carcinogen and can be found in adhesives in wood products such as MDF, carpets, furniture, paints and varnishes. Health effects of formaldehyde include sore throats, rhinitis, nasal irritation and breathlessness. A fifth of UK homes showed significant levels of formaldehyde with 13% of properties exceeding World Health Organization (WHO) guideline limits.

The report also identified that 45% of homes had levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that exceeded healthy levels, with 17% reporting high-to-serious levels of VOCs.* VOCs are a group of chemicals that readily evaporate into the air and have been linked to nausea, fatigue and headaches; some are also carcinogenic.

In this report , 28% of homeowners with high VOC readings reported multiple respiratory difficulties. The report identified that these high levels of indoor air pollution were mainly caused by the occupants’ day-to-day behaviour. Sources of VOCs include paints, varnishes, alcohol products such as cleaning solutions, hand sanitisers, air freshners, personal care products including deodorants, perfumes, hair dye, nail varnish, and scented candles.

Airtopia’s report also identified that a large proportion of households were unaware of the simple things they can do to reduce indoor air pollution – with 47% of households surveyed confirming that they never ventilate their homes at night.

In addition, Opinium market research, commissioned by Clean Air Day organisers Global Action Plan, identified that while 71% of people feel that their health is affected by indoor air pollution, levels of awareness among households as to the main sources of indoor air pollution were also incredibly low: when asked to select the three biggest sources of indoor air pollution from a list we provided, 16 % of people were unable to give an answer; meanwhile only 2% identified chipboard furniture as a top source of pollution - chipboard is a major source of formaldehyde.

Remarkably few people reported doing things to reduce the level of VOC air pollution in their homes. For example, only 13% reported using low-emission (labelled low VOC) paints, varnishes and glues when decorating or crafting, and only 4% of respondents had opted for low emission carpets or furniture.

This research has been launched ahead of an interdisciplinary Working Party review, funded in part by Airtopia, into the effects of indoor air pollution on children and young people’s health. This is being carried out by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) in collaboration with the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).

One of the lead authors, Professor Stephen Holgate, a leading health and air pollution expert, said: “The data in this report reveals the scale of the indoor air pollution challenge. Indoor air pollution is being linked to many adverse health effects including asthma, cardiovascular disorders, thyroid disease, diabetes, impaired cognition and cancer. With these multitude of potential health effects it’s essential that more research is undertaken into this area to fully understand the health impacts and what needs to be done to keep people safe.”

Tim Robinson, Head of Science at Airtopia, said: “There are literally hundreds of chemicals polluting our indoor air and this research from our Home Health Checks shows how important it is that householders understand this. It’s time we gave people more information to protect their health, and that is just what Airtopia is working to do.”

Chris Large, Senior Partner at Global Action Plan, the charity behind Clean Air Day, said: “Indoor air pollution is a major issue that needs to be urgently addressed so this year the Clean Air Day campaign is putting the spotlight on air pollution indoors as well as outdoors.

“This research highlights the need for more public information and advice on indoor air pollution, and measures like better product labelling so that people can make informed choices. There is an alarming lack of awareness of indoor air pollution and the simple things householders can do to protect themselves, such as buying low VOC labelled products, using fragrance-free, milder cleaning products, ensuring they source MDF that meets European standards, and opening windows.”

James, one of the people who took part in Airtopia’s study, lives in a one-bedroom, new-build flat in Surrey. He can suffer from migraines and knew that these might be intensified by what he was breathing in at home. The Airtopia survey revealed, among other things, a VOC level five times higher than the acceptable range, and formaldehyde at two times normal levels.

“We expected high levels of VOCs,” said James, “because it was a new flat, but our formaldehyde rating has made us think about what furniture to buy in the future - wood, not MDF, and quality soft furnishings.”

Ahead of Clean Air Day, taking place on 20 June, Global Action Plan has released a range of advice and information on what households can do to reduce their exposure to indoor air pollution.

Find out how to protect yourself from indoor air pollution

News source: Clean Air Day

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