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Doctors highlight the lifelong impact of air pollution in the UK

Tuesday, 23 February 2016 at 1:00:PM
Air pollution report

UK air pollution has been in the spotlight again this morning, following the release of a report by the Royal College of Physicians.

So does it tell us anything important we didn’t already know? Well, yes and no.

As regards outdoor air pollution, the 123-page report merely adds further weight to the well-established arguments over the need to tighten regulations over emissions from vehicles, especially the diesel engines that are a major source of pollutants on the UK’s roads. The report also highlights the unsurprising need for concerted action – as it says, “Everyone has some responsibility for reducing air pollution”.

What the report does do that is new and important is to draw attention to indoor pollution arising from consumer products – as our customer Alastair Lewis did recently. As the report notes, “indoors we can also be exposed to … solvents that slowly seep from plastics, paints and furnishings. The lemon and pine scents that we use to make our homes smell fresh can react chemically to generate air pollutants, and ozone-based air fresheners can also cause indoor air pollution”.

These sources of potentially hazardous organic chemicals tend not to receive much attention in the wider media, and it is good to note that this aspect of the report has been picked up by BBC News, ITV News, and The Guardian.

Personal care productsThe effect of reduced air exchange rates is also noted: “Pressures to conserve energy have often led to reduced ventilation and hence an increased propensity for the build-up of hazardous substances inside buildings.”

Regarding this latter point, it’s a pity that the report has, without qualification, “making homes more energy efficient” as one of its headline recommendations to save energy and so reduce pollution from burning fuel. This is precisely the message that leads people to close windows, and so keep the indoor-generated pollutants in.

However, the good news is that, unlike outdoor air pollution, which individuals have little power to change, indoor air pollution is almost entirely within our control. People just have to be informed about the issues and the risks in a balanced manner, and this report goes some way to achieving that.

At Markes, we can claim some role in helping to raise awareness of indoor air pollution. For many years, we’ve been helping university researchers and manufacturers understand what chemicals are released from indoor products and materials, and how much there is of each chemical.

This information, once tied in with toxicology data, enables healthcare professionals to assess risk, which then leads to a clearer understanding of how the chemicals might affect health outcomes, as outlined in this report. It is good to see that the resulting message about indoor air pollutants, so long discussed in academia and the subject primarily of research papers, might finally now be making it into the mainstream.

David Barden

David BardenDavid Barden received his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Cambridge University in 2004, and during his time as an editor at the RSC wrote news pieces for Chemistry World on various scientific topics. He is now Technical Copywriter at Markes International, where he draws on the expertise of his colleagues to explain how new thermal desorption and mass spectrometry technologies can be applied to analyse volatile organic compounds in a wide variety of situations.


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