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Asthma campaigner to demand action on IAQ at BESA Conference

The mother of a young girl who died from an asthma attack linked to air pollution is to demand action from the building engineering sector and politicians at BESA’s conference on 21 November

Rosa Kissi-Debrah, whose nine-year-old daughter Ella died in 2013 after an asthma attack linked to air pollution, is to call for action on IAQ at the upcoming BESA annual conference.

Ms Kissi-Debrah, who founded the Ella Roberta Foundation ( in memory of her daughter, will be the headline speaker during a special Health & Wellbeing in Buildings seminar during the BESA conference, for which H&V News is a media partner. 

The event will see the launch of a ‘Safe Havens’ campaign (#buildingsafehavens) designed to promote the concept of buildings being engineered to protect occupants from the hazards of air pollution by creating indoor clean air zones.

Ms Kissi-Debra said: “While we will continue the fight for local and central government to take proper measures to reduce air pollution in our cities; we will also push building owners and operators to look at how they can make their buildings cleaner and safer for us and our children. We have come to expect buildings to be able to keep us cooler on hot days and warmer on cold ones; so why should we not also expect them to be able to provide a clean air environment when pollution is rising outside?” 

She pointed out that people spend between 80 and 90 per cent of their time indoors making indoor air quality (IAQ) one of the country’s most pressing health issues. The British Lung Foundation recently dubbed air pollution as Britain’s greatest “health crisis” on a par with the level of harm caused by smoking and costing the NHS billions of pounds every year.

“Indoor air can often be as much as five times more polluted than outdoor air due to concentrations and the mixture of sources of contamination, but this is often forgotten in the wider air quality debate,” said Ms Kissi-Debrah. “Building owners and managers owe it to their occupiers to draw on all the technical resources and expertise of the building engineering sector to turn indoor spaces into safe havens where people can breathe clean, healthy air.”

The conference session will be chaired by Nathan Wood of IAQ specialist firm Farmwood, which has delivered a series of clean air solutions for schools and healthcare premises. Mr Wood, who is also chair of the BESA Health & Wellbeing in Buildings group, applauded recent efforts in London to tackle pollution from transport including dramatic reductions in NO2 emissions inside the Ultra Low Emissions Zone introduced by Mayor Sadiq Khan.

The Mayor has also pledged to meet tough WHO guidelines for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) by 2030 so long as the government amends its draft Environment Bill to adopt this target.

Mr Wood said: “It is great to see the work being undertaken to tackle outdoor pollution, but this will take many years to show lasting benefits. In the meantime, we want to galvanise industry and politicians to work together to promote the concept of buildings as safe havens from pollution so people can be protected right now. Good IAQ measures can be adopted in every existing building quickly and relatively cheaply – our conference session will demonstrate how.”

Mr Wood added that the industry should learn from Ms Kissi-Debrah: “Rosa’s tragic human experience of the worst possible impacts of air pollution should serve as a major motivation for our industry. It should also remind anyone involved in designing and maintaining buildings that they have a huge responsibility for the safety and welfare of occupants. The government has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enshrine IAQ in law by revising the draft Environment Bill to make sure this crucial aspect is included.”

More information about the BESA conference:  

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