HVAC body urges bold measures in proposed Environment Bill to transform wellbeing in buildings
BESA, the Building Engineering Services Association, has urged the new government to seize what it called a ’fantastic opportunity to make radical changes to indoor air quality policies’ in order to tackle a growing health emergency in buildings.
It said the government’s comfortable majority should give it the confidence to enshrine a series of “bold measures” in its proposed Environment Bill that could transform health and wellbeing in buildings.
BESA is calling on the government to make measuring and monitoring of IAQ mandatory in the proposed Environment Bill – specifically airborne particulates PM2.5 and below; along with CO2 levels; and VOCs, which are linked to heart and lung diseases as well as certain cancers. There is also a growing problem with NOx emissions from transport, which is known to cause inflammation of the airways, reduce lung function and increase the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.
It also proposed the adoption of the latest filtration standard (ISO16890) in building regulations that would allow building engineers to tackle even the very smallest particulates including PM1 (the smallest easily measurable), which has been identified as a Group One carcinogen by the World Health Organisation and was linked in recent studies to early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
BESA recently launched the Building Safe Havens campaign aimed at promoting the concept of ’indoor clean air zones’ that protect occupants from the worst impacts of air pollution – reflecting the fact that most people spend an average of 90 per cent of their lives indoors.
Nathan Wood, chair of BESA’s Health & Wellbeing in Buildings group, said: “This is a once in a generation opportunity for us to get proper standards of measurement, monitoring and improvement of IAQ enshrined in legislation. There is so much evidence gathered by the medical profession, which clearly shows the link between poor air quality and serious health conditions.”
He added that the building engineering sector now has a range of techniques that are proven and already making a difference in many buildings: ”Legislation would allow us to roll out those solutions on a much wider scale and give potentially lifesaving protection to those most vulnerable to the impact of indoor pollution.”
The association noted that new research carried out at Southampton University by Professor Stephen Holgate, who is leading a review of IAQ on behalf of the Royal College of Physicians, has revealed that indoor air can be 13 times more polluted than the air outside the building. Significantly, he concluded that it can be controlled through a combination of improved building systems and occupant behaviour..
It added that the British Heart Foundation says living in a British city raises the risk of early death by the same amount as smoking 150 cigarettes a year and that particulate matter is responsible for 11,000 coronary heart disease and stroke deaths each year.
The association also backed a recommendation from the Committee on Climate Change that the relevant building regulations (Parts F and L) are closely aligned to ensure improvements in energy efficiency (Part L) do not lead to overheating and lack of effective mechanical ventilation.
Schools are a particular area of concern, so BESA has recommended that air quality checks become a mandatory part of Ofsted inspections, particularly in high-risk urban areas and close to busy roads. It wants the same rules to apply for hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
This work could be supported by improving the system of air quality management areas (AQMAs) that are administered by local authorities, BESA said. While many exist, their information is not routinely shared with the public or the industry. The Bill could ensure that regular alerts are issued when there are spikes in local air pollution and the information gathered should become a consideration for officials considering planning applications.
BESA also called for the Bill to contain provision for measures that improve IAQ, such as filter cleaning and replacement, along with ductwork and fan maintenance, be made mandatory elements of regular service and maintenance programmes in commercial buildings.
The association believes this should be accompanied by government advice on widely available solutions such as clean air technologies and probiotic cleaning products along with digital measuring, monitoring and control of air quality and mechanical ventilation systems.