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Last edited 14 Apr 2022
Air quality in the built environment
Human activities have contributed significantly to the creation of air borne pollutants, largely as a result of the burning of fossil fuels. Air pollution can result in harm to the natural environment and adverse effects on human health.
The effects of long-term exposure to air pollution can lead to respiratory and inflammatory illness and also more serious conditions such as heart disease and cancer. More information on the health effects is provided on the UK AIR website.
In February 2016, the Royal College of Physicians published 'Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution' in which they claimed that each year in the UK, around 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution. See BSRIA responds to UK Air Pollution Report for more information.
The UK national emission totals are reported on an annual basis to the European Commission and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on the Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution. The convention agreed, amongst other protocols, the Gothenberg Protocol which sets emission reduction targets to be achieved by 2020.
The limits for certain pollutants is set by the EU ambient air quality directives. In recent decades, the air pollution levels in the UK have declined significantly and the UK meets the air quality standards for the majority of pollutants. One pollutant that remains problematic is nitrogen dioxide levels close to roads in urban areas.
 European directives
- The Ambient Air Quality Directive (2008/50/EC and the 2004 Directive which set pollution limits for outdoors.
- The EU National Emissions Ceilings Directive (2001/81/EC) which sets pollution limits for all member states.
 National legislation
In the UK, under the Environment Act 1995 and the Environment (Northern Ireland) Order 2002, local authorities are required to review air quality and designate management areas if improvements are required.
Other relevant legislation includes:
- Air Quality (Standards) Regulations 2010.
- Air Quality (England) Regulations 2000.
- National Emission Ceilings Regulations 2002.
The Environment Agency are the regulators for air quality levels from large industrial processes and work with the local authorities and Highways England to manage the government’s Air Quality Strategy.
- 1,3 Butadiene.
- Carbon monoxide.
- Nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
- Particulate Matter (PM10 and PM2.5).
- Sulphur dioxide.
 Local Air Quality Management
A Local Air Quality Management (LAQM) framework was established by the government under the Environment Act 1995, and requires local authorities to assess air quality within their areas. Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) are then designated where the UK standards and objectives are not being met.
 Development and air quality
Many development projects have the potential to affect air quality and where appropriate, an air quality assessment may be required. Air quality assessments are typically undertaken by independent consultants and consider both the construction and operational phases of the project. They may be required as part of a formal Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) or as a stand-alone report submitted in support of a planning application.
On 20 May 2019, the British Safety Council launched a campaign to have air pollution recognised as an occupational health hazard for construction workers and others who work outdoors. Ref https://www.britsafe.org/about-us/press-releases/2019/it-s-time-to-recognise-air-pollution-as-an-occupational-health-hazard/
In August 2018, new research was published claiming to show that regular exposure to low levels of air pollution may lead to the heart undergoing changes similar to those in the early stages of heart failure.
The researchers, led from Queen Mary University of London, said their study found a demonstrable and clear link between higher pollution level exposure and larger right and left ventricles - the chambers in the heart that pump blood round the body. The study of 4,000 people found that those who lived by roads with high traffic and noise levels had larger hearts than those living in less-polluted areas, despite the fact that those included in the study were exposed to pollution levels below UK guidelines, suggesting that even relatively low levels may be harmful to health.
According to researchers, the heart enlarged by approximately 1% for every extra microgram per cubic metre of PM2.5 (small air pollution particles), and for every 10 extra micrograms per cubic metre of nitrogen dioxide.
Although the changes observed in the heart were relatively small and potentially reversible, they were, the researchers said, comparable to being completely inactive or having elevated blood pressure, and they called on the government to reduce air pollution more quickly.
- Air quality exceedance: Where pollutant concentrations exceed an air quality standard.
- Air quality limit value: A maximum pollutant concentration to be achieved in the atmosphere, either without exception or with a permitted number of exceedances. Limit values are defined in European Union Directives and implemented in United Kingdom legislation.
- Air quality management area: If a local authority identifies any locations within its boundaries where the air quality objectives are not likely to be achieved, it must declare the area as an air quality management area. The local authority is subsequently required to put together a local air quality action plan.
- Air quality objective: Objectives are policy targets generally expressed as a maximum ambient pollutant concentration to be achieved. The objectives are set out in the UK Government’s Air Quality Strategy for the key air pollutants.
- Air quality sensitive receptors: People, property, species or designated sites for nature conservation that may be at risk from exposure to air pollutants potentially arising as a result of a proposed development.
- Air quality standard: Air quality limit values and objectives.
- Air pollution index.
- Air Quality Taskforce.
- At a glance - Indoor air quality.
- BREEAM and air quality.
- BREEAM Indoor air quality plan.
- BREEAM Indoor air quality Ventilation.
- BREEAM Indoor pollutants VOCs.
- BREEAM NOx emissions.
- BSRIA responds to UK Air Pollution Report.
- Bringing a breath of fresh air to the design of indoor environments.
- Construction dust.
- Ensuring good indoor air quality in buildings.
- Fresh air.
- Health effects of indoor air quality on children and young people.
- High pollution location.
- Indoor air quality.
- Indoor environmental quality.
- Locating ventilation inlets to reduce ingress of external pollutants into buildings: A new methodology IP 9 14.
- Mechanical ventilation's role in improving indoor air quality.
- National Health Service Act of 2006.
- Sources of external pollution.
- TSI Environmental dust monitoring system.
- Ultra Low Emission Zone.
- United Nations Economic Commission for Europe UNECE.
 External references
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