This week the Government released its Clean Air Strategy, outlining how it plans to clean the air we breathe, protect nature and boost the economy by tackling all sources of air pollution.
Air pollution is a serious issue around the world and the biggest environmental risk to human health in the UK – something that we’re seeing more and more reports of in the news. For example, last week the mother of a nine-year-old schoolgirl who died of an asthma attack won the right to seek a new inquest at the high court after evidence showed her condition could be linked to air pollution spikes from traffic near her home in south London.
So what does the Government’s new Clean Air Strategy cover – and do the steps go far enough?
Clean Air Strategy: An overview
Reducing emissions from transport is a key step explained in the document. The Government has already committed more than £3.5 billion to tackle air pollution through cleaner road transport.
The Road to Zero report sets out the Government’s ambitions to position the UK as the best place in the world to develop, manufacture and use zero emissions vehicles. As part of this, it wants to end the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040. There are also plans to reduce emissions from rail, as well as further strategies under review or in development for ports and aviation.
There are a number of steps that explore ways of reducing emissions from farming, a key target as the agriculture sector accounts for 88% of all emissions from ammonia in the UK. The report also explains how the Government will continue working with businesses in the industrial sector to reduce emissions and improve standards across the board.
While many people may automatically associate air pollution with transport and industry, the report goes into detail about the dangers of emissions at home. As explained in the document, burning wood and coal in open fires and stoves accounts for up to 38% of the UK’s primary emissions of fine particulate matter, as well as harmful sulphur dioxide. Carpets, fabrics, cleaning products and some paints can emit chemicals containing non-methane volatile organic compounds.
Because of this, the Government is aiming to introduce legislation to prohibit the sale of the most polluting fuel, make sure only the cleanest stoves are available or sale by 2022, and develop a campaign to communicate the impact domestic burners has on health and the environment.
To help reduce the harmful build-up of indoor air pollutions in homes, the Government also plans to consult on changes to Building Regulations standards for ventilation in homes and other buildings.
How do we improve indoor air quality in homes?
As part of the Multi Comfort concept, we explore how we can design and build homes to improve indoor air quality, so it’s promising to see that the Government recognises the importance of ventilation and reducing harmful pollutants from things like fires and stoves.
When it comes to ventilation in our homes, it’s important to look at natural and manual ventilation – for example, opening windows – as well as automatic, mechanical ventilation systems. Hybrid ventilation, which combines natural ventilation in mid-season with mechanical in more extreme conditions, is also growing in popularity. Purifying the air with filters can also help.
The materials we use to build our homes can improve air quality too. Some modern construction materials are developed to actively remove pollutants and harmful volatile organic compounds from indoor air.
The cost of air pollution on our health and wellbeing
Admittedly there is no quick fix for resolving the air pollution crisis we currently face, but action needs to be taken as soon as possible. As well as tackling the sources of air pollution to reduce emissions as much as possible – if not get rid of them completely – we also need to introduce ways of cleaning the air we breathe in our homes. After all, we spend up to 90% of our time indoors.
The Government’s new Clean Air Strategy outlines the financial impact of air pollution. Research commissioned by Public Health England found the cumulative costs for diseases that have a strong link with air pollution, such as strokes, lung cancer and childhood asthma, could cost health and social care in England up to £5.3 billion by 2035. If you combine diseases with weaker links to air pollution – for example diabetes, low birth weight, dementia and lunch cancer – this figure increases to £18.6 billion.
With so many people’s comfort, wellbeing and health at risk, we simply can’t afford not to prioritise the issue of air pollution. By tackling all sources of air pollution, plus building or improving our homes to the Multi Comfort standard, we can start to make real progress for the benefit of all of us.
Disclaimer: The sole responsibility for any views expressed lies with the author(s). Any opinions shared do not necessarily represent the views of Saint-Gobain.