We need to address indoor air pollution

We spend 90% of our life indoors, so awareness of how indoor air pollution can affect our health needs to improve, writes Dr Alison Cook, director of policy at The British Lung Foundation

We know breathing in dirty air can seriously harm our lungs and that’s a problem not only outside our homes but inside them too.

Air pollution disproportionately affects those in poorer communities and those living in cities due to the high volume of road traffic, the biggest contributor to air pollution in towns and cities.

Dirty air doesn’t just cut lives short; it also seriously affects the health and quality of life of the millions of people in the UK who have a lung disease and puts children at risk of developing a lung condition.

That’s why it’s so important more is done on a local and national level to support people to switch to cleaner forms of transport, such as walking, cycling and public transport.

Introducing Clean Air Zones is also vital in the fight against air pollution. The successful launch of the ULEZ in London should be all the evidence local authorities need to roll out similar Clean Air Zones across the country. In the six months since it started, the number of polluting vehicles in the ULEZ area dropped by a third.

Toxic air is not just a London problem – most UK cities have illegal and unsafe levels of pollution which we know could be stunting the growth of our children’s lungs and leaving them with a lifetime of health problems.

We welcomed the government’s Environment Bill which is a major step forward for air quality and lung health. The bill sets out a plan for setting legally binding targets for fine particulate matter, these tiny toxic particles can be some of the most dangerous for us to breathe in.

While this is welcome, it doesn’t go far enough. We already have legal guidelines for fine particulate matter, they just aren’t strong enough.

We need the government to commit to changing these limits to those recommended by leading experts at the World Health Organisation and for them to be met by 2030 at the latest. Every day we delay further discussing what these targets should be and not taking action, is another day that more people will be put at risk. 

It’s critical we also think about what’s contributing to the air quality inside our homes. We spend about 90% of our time indoors so it’s vital everyone has access to information that can help them protect their lungs while at home.

The quality of the air we breathe at home can be affected by many things including; chemicals we use when we clean or decorate, how we heat and cook in our homes and cigarette smoke. The air indoors can also be affected by how a building is ventilated, room temperature, damp and condensation, and pollution that has come indoors from outside.

There are simple ways to improve air quality in the home. We’d suggest keeping your home well aired especially if you’re cooking or using a shower. Keep an eye out for condensation, which encourages mould to grow. To prevent condensation, wipe down windowsills daily and dry your washing outside if you can.

Indoor air pollution can also be a problem in the workplace, as in some jobs, you might be exposed to much higher concentrations of certain air pollutants than you would be at home or you may come into contact with more dangerous substances than you would find at home.

Employees must be empowered to know how to protect their lungs at work. You have the right to work in a place where the risks to your health and safety are properly controlled by your employer.

If you are worried about the health and safety at your place of work, talk to your employer, supervisor or health and safety representative. If they can’t address your concerns, you can report the problem to the Health and Safety Executive.

It’s crucial wherever we are, be it at home, at work or outside, we are breathing clean air with healthy lungs. The government must remember people’s lives are being harmed and even cut short by air pollution, those in power must step up and act urgently to address this public health crisis.

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