09 June 2020

In this 2-part blog Greenwood puts the spotlight on a major new report calling for legislation to improve indoor air quality (IAQ) in social housing.

The report, released by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and the Royal College of Physicians, concludes a strong link between IAQ and children’s respiratory health, and calls upon government, local authorities and housing associations to do more to improve air quality in social housing units.

Part 1 highlighted the main takeaways from the report (recapped below), as well as exploring the main pollutants found in the home and factors affecting IAQ.

The focus here (part 2) is on the impacts of IAQ on health and the ventilation solutions that can help to mitigate those health risks.

First, let’s recap the recommendations made in the RCPCH report.

The inside Story: Health effects of indoor air quality on children and young people

The extensive report on the health effects of indoor air quality on children and adolescents is based on reviews of 221 studies and draws on interviews with children, young people and families. In conclusion, the RCPCH recommends that government and local authorities should be engaging in the following activity to improve IAQ:

  • Develop a national strategy to include the setting of IAQ standards
  • Set up a national body to lead on IAQ
  • Introduce emissions labelling of household products and building materials
  • Give clear information about IAQ to the public, local authorities, and appropriate professions
  • Establish a process for those in rented and social housing to report IAQ problems
  • Provide assistance for necessary improvements

The impacts of poor IAQ on health

The report presents evidence linking indoor air pollution to a range of childhood health problems including asthma, wheezing, conjunctivitis, dermatitis, and eczema.

In addition, according to the British Lung Foundation, poor indoor air quality is associated with an increased risk of pneumonia, obstructive lung disease (COPD) and lung cancer. Indoor pollution can also increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Ventilation solutions and how they can help to mitigate health risks

One of the biggest issues concerning IAQ revolves around inadequate ventilation. Greenwood has previously reported on the problems with ventilation in social housing, where damp issues, overcrowding, inadequate heating and a lack of maintenance by landlords is more likely.

A lack of knowledge around adequate ventilation can mean tenants turn noisy extractor fans off. Poor fan installation is also a contributory factor to poor IAQ in social housing.

Prolonged exposure to high levels of indoor dampness is known to cause chronic health problems such as respiratory infections, allergies and asthma.

There are solutions - Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) and decentralised Mechanical Extract Ventilation (dMEV) can improve the quality of indoor air considerably, mitigating many of the current health problems associated with poor ventilation.

So, how do these ventilation systems work?

MVHR works by extracting stale air and replacing it with fresh air, while at the same time recovering heat that would normally be lost. MVHR systems improve IAQ and reduce energy bills.

dMEV is a low-energy ventilation system designed to replace noisy and inefficient conventional bathroom extractor fans. The technology is cost-effective and requires no input from residents once installed.

Effective energy-efficient ventilation is now considered an essential feature for the improvement of IAQ.

How legislation can have a positive impact on social housing and health

There is a considerable lack of public awareness about indoor pollution and products that contribute to poor IAQ do not currently have clear labelling and guidance. Advice for building occupants about the causes and risks of poor indoor air quality is urgently required.

Information from social landlords needs to be forthcoming about how the building should be used and adequate ventilation retrofitted to maintain good air quality.

Importantly, in order to eradicate poor IAQ in social housing rigorous enforcement of regulations is required, including increased use of punitive measures for lack of compliance, and more thorough testing to ensure the performance of installed systems are maintained. Legislation on a number of fronts is required.

As recommended in the RCPCH report, this means:

  • Legally binding performance standards for indoor air quality to include ventilation rates, maximum concentration levels for specific pollutants, labelling of materials, and testing of appliances
  • Air quality tests when local authority construction is complete and before the building is signed off
  • Compliance tests after construction stages and assessment of buildings once occupied – this may require ring-fenced resources for local authorities to take enforcement action
  • Free indoor air testing for social housing tenants

Professor Stephen Holgate, Special Advisor for the Royal College of Physicians said:

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 were storing up problems for future health.”

It doesnt get clearer than that.