We breathe 25kg of air per day, so minimising airborne pollution clearly matters. But we need to do better – a big part of the population lives and works in areas where particle rates exceed World Health Organisation guidelines. Mark Taylor, Sales Director for Camfil, examines the impact of poor indoor air quality on health and productivity and what FMs can do to ensure that the occupants in their buildings are kept safe.
Delving through the latest news on the subject of air quality throws up a whole host of disturbing headlines: Government accused of ‘shirking its responsibility’ on air pollution; Defra reports rise in hourly particulate concentrations; More than 95% of Earth’s population breathing dangerously polluted air, finds study; Toxic air a ‘national health emergency’, MPs warn; Bradford named as air pollution hotspot; Study links air pollution and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome… the list goes on.
In the meantime, though, most facilities managers are bemused and perplexed about the entire subject. Type ‘air quality’ into Google and you are faced with a mind-numbing 44 million responses. The subject clearly provokes a great deal of attention.
Indeed, the UK government has spent more than half a million pounds on failed legal battles against clean air campaigners, according to figures obtained under a recent freedom of information request by the Labour party.
Toxic air is responsible for more than 40,000 premature deaths in the UK every year, according to a report, published by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. Until now, the focus has been on outdoor air quality, especially in terms of diesel particulates, but the concentrations of some pollutants inside a building are to five to 10 times higher than outside because they are concentrated in a smaller volume of space as contaminants accumulate and can’t escape.
This has seriously debilitating effects on people, especially those working in offices, who suffer lethargy and reduced concentration as well as health complaints, such as cancer, asthma, strokes, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and symptoms linked to dementia; a worrying trend considering we spend 90% of our time indoors.
In fact, there is an intrinsic link between indoor and outdoor air quality. Air pollutants generated outdoors are relevant to indoor air quality (IAQ) and health if they meet three criteria – they penetrate indoors, generate a significant portion of pollutants to indoor air, and harm the health of at least some of the indoor population.
Indeed, IAQ has become the latest battleground in the fight for business in the lucrative tourist industry in China. The newly opened Cordis Hongqiao hotel in the heavily polluted city of Shanghai boasts in-room pollution monitors and filtered air typically 10 times cleaner than that outside. For this hotel, at least, top quality indoor air is a hard-earned differentiator on its many luxury competitors with the hotel’s management hopeful the clean air will ultimately boost room prices by around 10%.
IAQ can be affected by gases such as carbon monoxide, radon and volatile organic compounds; particulates; and microbial contaminants including mould and bacteria. The main methods for improving IAQ in most buildings are source control, the use of ventilation to dilute contaminants and filtration.
The World Health Organisation and the European Union are monitoring PM2.5 and PM10 and reporting on the negative health effects of these particles and their ability to penetrate our lungs and cause respiratory and cardiovascular morbidity and disease.
But, to provide a truly healthy and productive indoor air environment in areas with bad air pollution, ventilation systems need filters that are also capable of removing PM1 particles – the smallest fraction and the most harmful. This means that the focus should be put on filtering particles that are 1 μm (micrometre) or smaller in diameter – particles also known as PM1 (particulate matter 1).
PM1 is so bad for our health because the human body has no protection against these very small particles. They enter our bodies through the respiratory system – we inhale them – and a significant part go deep into our lungs and continue out into the blood stream.
PM1 particles are particularly damaging and likely to cause the most serious health problems. At worst, PM1 particles contribute to deadly diseases such as heart attacks and lung cancer.
But there is a problem when it comes to filtration. Small particulates – those designated ‘PM1’, meaning particulate matter with a diameter of 1 micrometre (micron) or less – can get through many of the standard filters used in air ventilation systems.
Air filters that effectively separate PM1 particles will not only protect people from serious health problems. They will also help sustain the general well-being and productivity of people by preventing bacteria and viruses (which are often PM1 in size) from spreading through the ventilation system.
With much of the FM sector’s business in Britain’s traffic congested towns and cities, ensuring effective air filtration should be a priority; one that will not only keep occupants healthy, but also contribute to improved productivity.
Camfil will be showcasing its solutions for improving the health and productivity of UK workspaces at Facilities Show 2018. Focusing on ways to prevent poor indoor air quality (IAQ), a problem which 70% of office staff complain about, Camfil will be helping visitors ‘see’ the invisible nasties infiltrating our airways using an on-stand Virtual Reality experience.
IAQ facts and figures
- Better IAQ thanks to higher air supply rate and or appropriate filter maintenance can increase productivity in offices by 10%.
- According to one study, improving IAQ reduces sick leave rate by 39% and costs by 44%.
- The population of Europe loses almost nine months’ life expectancy on average due to health impacts of air pollution.
- For good health and productivity, the air where you live or work needs to be about 20-24 deg C with a relative humidity (RH) of about 40-60%.
- Measurements have shown that a well-sealed building envelope and effective filtration of incoming supply air can reduce particle penetration by 78%.
- Nearly 9,500 Londoners die prematurely each year from air pollution – the total for the UK is estimated at 40,000.
- Traffic is responsible for 42% of carbon monoxide, 46% of nitrogen oxides and 26% of particulate matter pollution.
- In 2012, around 7 million people died – one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
- 80% of urban Europeans live in areas exceeding the current WHO guideline values for particle matters.
- The smallest particles that can be seen with the naked eye are around 40–50 µm in size. (1 µm is one thousandth of a millimetre.)
- To give some sense of scale, if a person was the size of a PM1 particle, PM2.5 would be big as an elephant and PM10 the equivalent of a sperm whale (about 20m long).
Common causes of poor IAQ
- Poor ventilation systems or unfiltered air coming in through open windows and doors.
- Chemical emissions from building materials.
- Furniture, electronics and office appliances ‘off-gassing’.
- Cleaning products, air fresheners, combustion particles from heating, and much more.