UK homes ‘toxic boxes’ due to indoor air pollution

Indoor air pollution is over three times worse than outdoor air pollution, with campaigners calling UK households ‘toxic boxes’ due to the number of air pollution particles trapped inside.

These were the findings of a study commissioned by the Clean Air Day campaign who asked the National Air Quality Testing Services (NAQTS) to conduct four experiments with four families in different UK locations in April and May 2019.

Each study monitored the level of ultrafine air pollution particles over a 24-hour period inside and outside the four families’ properties, which found that ultrafine particle pollution levels were on average 3.5 times higher inside than outside, peaking at 560 times outdoor air pollution.

Researchers said this is due to a combination of indoor activities such as cooking or burning wood alongside outdoor pollution from transport, which travels inside, creating a build-up of pollution inside the home, with pollution peaks taking longer than outdoors to disperse.

Ultrafine particles have the potential to have greater health impacts than PM10 or PM2.5 pollutants because they are smaller and evidence suggests they can be more easily absorbed into the body.

The government published its much-delayed Clean Air Strategy in January which they said ‘raised awareness’ of how household activities such as open fires and wood stoves contribute to indoor air pollution.

According to the government, domestic burning on stoves and open fires is now the single biggest source of particulate matter emissions, and they said new legislation will be introduced to prohibit the sale of the most polluting fuels whilst ensuring only the cleanest stoves are available for sale by 2022.

The indoor air pollution study was commissioned by environment charity Global Action Plan ahead of Clean Air Day, which takes place on Thursday June 20.

Air pollution expert Professor Stephen Holgate from the University of Southampton said: ‘This study provides early indicators of the scale of the air pollution challenge that we face in the UK – not only on our streets but in our homes.

‘With children spending increasing hours indoors exposing them to ultrafine particles of pollution, which can enter the bloodstream and could have a greater impact on vital organs, urgent action needs to be taken to address this issue of indoor air pollution.’

‘Ultrafine particles have the potential to have greater health impacts than PM10 or PM2.5 because they can be more easily absorbed into the body. In addition, their minute size means they behave together like a gas, are able to pass through the lungs into the circulation and get taken up into cells where they exert damaging effects.’

Chris Large, senior partner at Global Action Plan, added: ‘This year’s Clean Air Day 2019 we are placing a spotlight on the fact that air pollution isn’t just a problem on our streets, but in our homes too. You can’t just close your door and shut out air pollution.

‘We were shocked to discover that pollution at its peak can be up to 560 times higher indoors than it is outdoors.  The combination of indoor and outdoor air pollution sources is turning our homes into toxic boxes, with pollution trapped inside.’

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