In the UK, the majority of people spend over 90% of their time indoors, in enclosed built environment. Based on reports of indoor air quality surveys of homes in the UK, the concentrations of indoor pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxides are several times higher indoors than outdoors. The total exposure of people to the indoor air pollutants is a concern and should be an important environmental issue for building occupants.(bre.co.uk)
In the UK Asthma affects one in every ten children, and one in every twelve adults. Around 42% of sufferers say traffic fumes stop them walking in congested areas. (asthma.org.uk)
People can suffer a variety of adverse health effects, including headache, nauseas, respiratory problems, irritation of the eyes and sick building syndrome (SBS) due to the release of volatile chemicals in the air from building materials and services. SBS can also be caused by other environmental factors.
Building furnishing and finishing products such as varnishes and paints can release Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which are known to cause respiratory illness.
Formaldehyde has a particular health concern for people. The concentrations in new homes built after 1990s can be more than three times the concentrations of homes built before 1940s. The use of wood-based panels for building and furniture, and urea-formaldehyde cavity wall insulation are the major contributory factors for formaldehyde emissions in homes.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 30% of buildings worldwide may be the subject of excessive complaints related to air quality. (www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/sbs.html)
An estimated 5.5 million UK buildings contain asbestos.
Houseplants, including spider plants, areca palm, english ivy, gerbera daisy, peace lilies and rubber plants, can substantially reduce internal air pollution.
Typically VOCs can be more than 10 times higher indoors than outdoors.
The Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (2007) sets out standards and objectives for eight main air pollutants to protect health. If objectives are unlikely to be achieved, the local authority must declare an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA).
There are currently 25 AQMA in Hertfordshire, spread across 6 of the 10 districts. Many relate to the fumes emitted by vehicles on the M25 and M1. Others are in urban centres and along secondary routes. Details on each can be found at: http://aqma.defra.gov.uk/
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that complaints in the workplace have increased 500% since 1990.(www.iapuk.com)
In 2007 there were 151 pollution incidents that had a serious impact on air quality. The waste industry caused two-thirds of these incidents.