Breathe Easy Week, 12-16 June 2017 – How to Improve indoor air quality

This week is the British Lung Foundation’s annual Breathe Easy week, designed to raise awareness of lung conditions and raise money for research into lung disease.

Did you know: Poor air quality contributes to up to 40,000 early deaths a year across the UK.

Outdoor air quality is monitored and measured nationally by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and is described on a scale of 1-10 where 1 corresponds to ‘Low’ pollution and 10 corresponds to ‘Very High’ pollution using the Daily Air Quality Index (DAQI).

Daily Air Quality Index

This is a way of describing outdoor air pollution levels in a clear and simple way, similar to a pollen index or sun index. The Daily Air Quality Index (DAQI) covers the five pollutants that are most likely to affect health on a day-to-day basis:

  • Ozone
  • Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
  • Sulphur dioxide (SO2)
  • Particulate matter (as PM10)
  • Fine particulate matter (as PM2.5).

Recommended Actions and Health Advice

Air Pollution Banding Value Accompanying health messages for at-risk individuals* Accompanying health messages for the general population
Low 1-3 Enjoy your usual outdoor activities. Enjoy your usual outdoor activities.
Moderate 4-6 Adults and children with lung problems, and adults with heart problems, who experience symptoms, should consider reducing strenuous physical activity, particularly outdoors. Enjoy your usual outdoor activities.
High 7-9 Adults and children with lung problems, and adults with heart problems, should reduce strenuous physical exertion, particularly outdoors, and particularly if they experience symptoms. People with asthma may find they need to use their reliever inhaler more often. Older people should also reduce physical exertion. Anyone experiencing discomfort such as sore eyes, cough or sore throat should consider reducing activity, particularly outdoors.
Very High 10 Adults and children with lung problems, adults with heart problems, and older people, should avoid strenuous physical activity. People with asthma may find they need to use their reliever inhaler more often. Reduce physical exertion, particularly outdoors, especially if you experience symptoms such as cough or sore throat.

But what can you do to improve the air quality in your office?

We tend to think of air pollution as something outside, as described above, but the truth is, the air inside homes, offices, and other buildings can be more polluted than the air outside.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from fragrances and traditional cleaning products, fire-retardants, and naturally occurring radon can all pollute the indoor air. Much the same as outdoor air pollution, those with pre-existing lung conditions, the young and elderly are particularly susceptible.

With modern buildings becoming more heat efficient and therefore more airtight, and the trend for people to spend as much as 90% of their lives indoors, indoor allergens and irritants have become much more important.

5 Simple Steps to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air quality has a major influence on the health, comfort and well-being of building occupants. Poor air quality has been linked to Sick Building Syndrome, reduced productivity in offices and impaired learning in schools.

1  Keep your home and office clean.

Regular and thorough cleaning will help to remove the accumulation of chemicals and allergens from the indoor environment. Vacuuming in particular is good for this, and if you use a vacuum cleaner with a strong suction and HEPA filter, fewer particles will remain or be recirculated.

High traffic areas should be vacuumed at least once daily. Walls, skirting and other surfaces should also be regularly vacuumed, as well as upholstered furniture.

2 Make your workplace a no smoking zone

Thanks to the smoking ban, very few indoor environments are directly subjected to cigarette smoke, but second hand cigarette smoke can still pollute the indoor environment through windows and open doors if you have a dedicated smoking area near to the building.

Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, the effects of which are well documented, causing cancer, breathing problems, heart attacks, and stroke.

3 Grow some indoor plants

Houseplants can reduce components of indoor air pollution, particularly volatile organic compounds (VOC) such as benzene, toluene, and xylene. Through photosynthesis, plants remove CO2 from the air and release oxygen and water. Although the impact houseplants have on indoor air quality is small. Plants improve the aesthetics of an office and appear to reduce airborne microbes and mould.

4 Ensure adequate ventilation

As previously mentioned, modern buildings tend to be more airtight to reduce heat loss, but this conversely traps indoor air pollutants in. Unless you live in an area with very high outdoor air pollution, ensure trickle vents are open and windows are opened when appropriate to circulate the air. This will help to reduce the buildup of Radon and VOCs

One way to measure the health of indoor air is by the frequency of effective turnover of interior air, for example, classrooms are required to have 2.5 outdoor air changes per hour. In halls, gym, dining, and physiotherapy spaces, the ventilation should be sufficient to limit carbon dioxide to 1,500 ppm.

5 Reduce the use of VOCs

You may not realise this, but those ‘nice clean’ smells that you get with most cleaning products, detergents, fabric softeners and air fresheners are just an assortment of different chemicals known as Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs.

In one study, a plug-in air freshener was found to emit 20 different volatile organic compounds, including seven regulated as toxic or hazardous under U.S. federal laws.

Wherever possible, switch to fragrance-free or VOC free products, stop using aerosol sprays and open the windows from time to time to keep your home or office well ventilated.

For more information about how to maintain a healthy, clean and safe office, call CCS on 0800 4488026.