Indoor Air Quality

URBACT

By URBACT, on January 16th, 2011

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While a number of URBACT projects are actively investigating ways of improving environmental conditions and quality of life, an important contributing factor to poor human health and comfort  is often afforded less direct attention. Yet owing to the fact that EU populations spend disproportionately more of their time inside buildings – whether it be homes, places of work or institutional buildings such as schools or day centres – indoor air quality should represent a major cause for concern.  Professor Olli Seppanen  (Federation of Heating, Ventilation and Air-conditioning Engineers, REHVA) in a recent presentation to the Architects Council of Europe estimates that “More than 2 million life years are lost annually through poor indoor air quality”.

Dampness and effects of moisture, (coincidentally ideal breeding grounds for moulds causing microbial pollution or allergens such as dust mites), presence of bio-aerosols, pollution induced by combustion material, have proven causal links with increased levels of asthma, allergy, cardio-vascular disease and degeneration of human immune systems.  Dampness and bacterial infestation have traditionally been associated with poorly constructed and poorly maintained housing for low-income groups, but some estimates suggest that moisture problems, for example, affect more than half of buildings during their lifecycle. It is also clear that young children and senior citizens are particularly vulnerable as a result of general lack of location choice and inability to manage their indoor environments, where ventilation is a key factor.

It is true that much can be achieved to counter such risks through application of appropriate technical solutions (standards as well as techniques) but the impacts are the result of a multiplicity of often inter-related factors such as urbanisation patterns, badly implemented energy conservation measures, open use of global building materials and construction methods, and last but not least climate change effects. So even in this apparently closed problem sector, an integrated reaction can be presented as the only optimal way of tackling the health risks involved in a comprehensive way. Professor Seppanen reminds us that “Existing EU standards for the indoor environment are often not put into force and are only mandatory if they are included in national legislation”. So while the EU Commission, DG for Health and Consumers, has proposed a series of actions including holistic integration of indoor air quality, energy performance, selection of low pollution materials and moisture-safe construction – the recent Belgian Presidency provided an extra impulse requesting that an EU strategy on improving indoor air quality be put  in place by 2015.

On your next visit to Brussels it is perhaps worthwhile to consider that in fact the air quality in your meeting room in the “rue de la Loi” may be even worse than that of the open air in the 5-6 lane constant traffic artery below – as a result of pollutants infiltrating the envelope and building up, but not being efficiently circulated and ejected.

Philip Stein
Thematic Pole Manager

2 Responses to “Indoor Air Quality”

  1. Sara Levine says:

    Another culprit to indoor air pollution is mold/bacetria. My family just had a mold testing completed on a home we were looking at purchasing. Good thing we did. The home was infested. My son already suffers from asthma…his doctor told me it would have gotten expontentially worse. Hope this helps.

  2. Philip Stein Philip Stein says:

    Thanks for the reaction Sara.

    Moulds are indeed a significant problem in this respect and your “forewarned is forearmed” message is welcome

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