Doctors highlight the lifelong impact of air pollution in the UK
Tuesday, 23 February 2016 at 1:00:PM
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
The 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
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 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.