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Last edited 21 Nov 2023
Discussing issues related to inside and outside air quality in 2023
The Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA) is an ISO 9001 registered test, instruments, research and consultancy organisation, providing specialist services in construction and building services. As a non-profit distributing, member-based association, clients can be assured of an independent approach and authoritative reputation. Profits made are invested into research programmes and producing industry recognised best practice guidance.
BSRIA (owned by The Building Services Research and Information Association) was founded in 1955 and employs over 160 people at its head office in Bracknell (UK), at BSRIA North in Preston, and at regional construction compliance offices throughout the UK as well as offices in France, China, USA; and Associates in Northern Ireland, Japan, Brazil and Australia.
The BSRIA Briefing 2023, "Cleaner Air, Better Tomorrow", held at the prestigious London Brewery, on November 17, addressed some of the key issues surrounding air quality, considering it from behavioural, technological, and legislative perspectives.
The greeting and networking session included a display of BSRIA technology associated with assessing and measuring air quality inside and outside buildings, with some being employed during the event around the venue.
 Air quality monitoring live stream
The Porter Tun room at The Brewery was equipped with six indoor air quality (IAQ) sensors. These were used to monitor temperature, relative humidity, carbon dioxide (CO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5) during the event. An Air Quality Index (AQI) value, which is a numerical index indicating the level of pollution was also reported, over a 24-hour period.
Several factors influence the quality of indoor air, including pollution concentrations from outdoor air, emissions from internal sources, and ventilation effectiveness. Monitoring IAQ reduces the health risks associated with poor indoor air, creating a safer and more comfortable environment for occupants. The graphs above show live plots of CO2 over a rolling 12-hour period. The live stream data can also be found via this link : https://www.bsria.com/uk/air_quality_hub/bsria_briefing_2023/
"Humans take about 20,000 breaths a day, there is something about saying that which immediately makes us think about breathing, in a way we don’t usually. The WHO tell us the most of all populations on the globe at some point breath in air that exceeds their guidance figures, so at some point we all breath in air that is polluted. More recently we all know from our own experience with the effects of COVID, that air quality inside and outside is incredibly important, particularly in that case in the transmission of disease."
"If you have been following the news about outdoor air quality recently there have been incredible picture from people in Dehli where they can hardly see across the road because of the visible pollution in the air there, and similar photos from Cairo and Doha and we sincerely hope we don’t get that in London. So outdoor air quality is really challenged just now."
"Inside, indoor air quality although effected by what is going on outside, as it has to be, the indoor sources and inadequate ventilation of many buildings tend to make the situation worse. So you get particular patterns of mould, chemicals released from synthetic fabrics, paints furnishings all those things as well as the household products we tend to use. It is estimated that contaminant sources from building materials, or from human behaviour, indoors can make indoor air 8-10 times more polluted that the air outside. So we have a real issue about taking ownership and custody of that issue."
Before introducing the first speaker, Julia Evans went on to briefly describe surrounding issues of access to good air quality as a human right, and the current bill in Parliament; The Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill, which is at its first reading. She briefly summarised some of the key related activities that BSRIA is engaged with as part of its long established role in these focus areas including; ventilation verification services, indoor environmental training courses, the Living Laboratory Innovation Challenge as well as the live stream monitoring the air quality in the room.
 Environmental hazards and air quality
 Mathew Hort - Head Atmospheric Dispersion and Air Quality - Met Office, UK.
Mathew Hort described the issues surrounding his work, subjects relating to how weather drives people indoors, which brings up cross discipline and real world issues, from foot and mouth to the increase in blue tongue. The Met Office is concerned with air quality, which in effect is a subset of the atmosphere and as such looks at the spectrum from where pollutants are emitted, how they travel through the atmosphere and make up the atmosphere to create environmental hazards.
Air quality is affected by weather, sources, dispersion, chemistry's and processes. How it impacts, decision making, on shorter cycle issues but also longer term issues, for example secondary pollution from the use of ammonia in agriculture can produce hazardous particulate matter sometime later. These external sources in their broad sense directly impact indoor environmental air quality, and not in an equal way. People are effected differently by pollutants, biologically but also socially, which brings the subject of exposure and vulnerability, where people live and how people live. There are clear elements of social injustice in who is most effected by air quality issues.
 Dr Yasemin Aktas - Deputy Academic Director, UK Centre for Moisture in Buildings (UKCMB)
Dr Yasemin Aktas presented graphs that show how more rain is falling, but there are fewer rainy days, which leads to flash flooding and increased damp penetration. In addition, there is an increase in household moisture generating activities where moisture produced per person per day can be up to 20 pints of water vapour released in to a space daily. Meanwhile traditional fabrics were more accustomed to soaking up moisture, whereas modern buildings often have less capability to do so. She discussed why is moisture is important, how it causes degradation, which can have structural impacts, and how the fabric becomes more vulnerable when wet, for example through salt action and frost effects.
She discussed the case of Awaab Ishak the two year old who died from mould exposure, the press and responses surrounding this awful case. Mould grows at average levels of temperature and the biggest impact of the risks of mould growth is humidity levels, which is very well known. In the UK it is said that 30% of homes have damp issues.
Whilst much is known about developed mould less is known about its development, the stages prior to being seen. There are no mould benchmarks, as it were to described and assess these issues. What is clear is that like many related issues it effects people unequally it is jointly a building physics, human biology, metrology and a societal issue.
 Roger Harrabin – BBC Environment and Energy Correspondent
Roger Harrabin shared a personal story of his grand daughter, who had an issue with breathing, she was taken into hospital and spent 3 days there, and side effects of the anaesthetic meant she may have had brain damage. She recovered and without memory loss, despite some returns to hospital. He shared this as an example of the importance of the work on everyday lives, the known relationship between asthma and air quality and the localised nature of these issues. On the one hand global emissions and pollution issues at the city scale, but also local issues, living near a main road and so on. He asked all specialists to think about the importance of their work and how it can impact lives.
He went on to describe the many contradictions and social complexities in the field from a programme about external air pollution, in which they discovered that in one of the homes they visited the mother was smoking numerous cigarettes inside, to the misleading diesel campaigns of car manufacturers to the complex issues around ULES and the banning of wood burners being difficult because it is difficult to associate certain chimneys to individual dwellings. He then moved on to a plea for greater co-ordination and collaboration to achieve results.
 Countries to look toward and slow change
The sessions ended with question and answers asking for examples of countries to inspire or look towards. The speakers directed the audience to Denmark and Norway and their moves towards electric heat pumps but that wood burners are used, and perhaps their model of management is quite prescriptive. Other countries such as Belgium and Germany have similar approaches and issues to the UK
One question asked why there have been so many changes in the building regs in terms of carbon, overheating, energy etc but very little changes in terms of ventilation. The panel noted the impact of lobbyists, in particular major housebuilders working against net zero standards. It was also noted that indoor and air quality issues are often localised and perhaps this is a reason.
 Enda Hayes - Professor of Air Quality and Carbon Management, UWE
Enda Hayes reminded the audience that people spend between 80-90% of life their indoors, so the issue is significant for most of the population. She talked of the time lag between public outcry and active legislation, for example in the case of the clean air act. On the positive side, there has been much action in terms of outside air, but not so much on indoor air quality in terms of legislation or regulation.
The richer you are, the more you are likely to generate but remain least exposed whilst those that generate less are more likely to be more exposed, it is un equal in essence. He discussed the possible role of citizen science and work interviewing occupants and their almost opposing interpretations and how citizen engagement can lead to air pollution action. The main point being that air pollution has a strong social dynamic to both problems and solutions, for example VOCs in the same building can vary by 1000 times depending on use and products. There are many related issues such as damp issues, heating, social housing, use of natural gas, the improvement of VOC use in paints, the increase of wood burning, re-emerging middle class tastes and the increase in VOCs from cosmetics and cleaning.
In particular the issue of VOC growth from personal care products, oven cleaners etc…so much so that VOCs from aerosols are now bigger sources than those from cars. Finally the other issue which is not often discussed is the particulate matter from micro-plastics in the indoor environment.
 Prof Aaron Gillich - Professor of Building Decarbonisation - Director of NZBC
Net Zero is an air quality upgrade. Good indoor AQ starts with good outdoor air. Aaron ran through an example AQ index, where 0 was best and an acceptable level 50. In this scenario London's air quality is around 53 on average, internal pollutants might add around 5, totalling 58, so the buildings needs to bring the pollution levels down by 8 to achieve 50 in total. This kind of approach needs to be used more to see buildings as the solution, despite also being part of the problem, PM2.5 and NOx emissions in particular.
NOx emissions are generated 51% from transport, 22% energy 17% industry and 10% building combustion, essentially gas boilers. The installation of gas is still a choice, and the UK is still installing 1.5million gas boilers a year, this needs to change in order to reduce NOx emissions.
During the Q and A session, there was a discussion about people and policy, and the need to place people first or policy first. Data and modelling need a context and a personal aspect. Government always do top down policy… if it worked we would be ok. There are new policy models that are bottom up.. and there’s a hybrid. Other discussions surrounded the number of lobbyists pushing hydrogen, despite the numerous reports saying it’s role will not be significant.
 The biggest public health challenge of a lifetime, COVID 19
 Prof Sir Jonathan Van-Tam MBE
The scale of the problem, when planning for influenza pandemics, swine flue pandemic, SARS etc, and the largest in 1918 which killed 198,000 people, Covid was reaching 100,000 by the first month. It was a period of difficult decisions, and questions as to whether the public would tow the line, it was very important to have a sense of consensus.
He described in detail the many trials and tribulations of Covid and the importance of quarantine and lock downs in relation to air quality and reducing spread. He did so in a candid and humble way, matter of fact, just doing their job. He jokingly said his biggest regret was signing, in 2019, for three more years. He gave a word of warning at he end, "there will be more coming sooner, rather than later, as humans encroach on the animal kingdom we will be coming across more and more things that we are not used to, so this kind of thing will happen again, for sure."
In concluding the conference the CEO said much of this demonstrates to us is if we don't work in partnership then we're unlikely to resolve any of the big societal issues that are presented to us today and in the future. As her last event as CEO she thanked the attendees, sponsors, speakers and BSRIA itself for being a fantastic organisation.
- Air pollution index.
- Air Quality Taskforce.
- At a glance - Indoor air quality.
- BSRIA Briefing 2023. Cleaner Air, Better Tomorrow
- BSRIA Briefing 2022 - from the outside looking in.
- BSRIA Briefing 2021.BSRIA Briefing 2019: A climate of change.
- BSRIA briefing 2018.
- BSRIA 2017 Briefing.
- BSRIA briefing 2016.
- BSRIA responds to UK Air Pollution Report.
- Bringing a breath of fresh air to the design of indoor environments.
- Construction dust.
- Coronavirus and force majeure.
- Coronavirus impact survey.
- Coronavirus job retention scheme.
- COVID-19 and mental health within construction firms.
- Covid-19 and the new normal for infrastructure systems - next steps.
- Covid-19 and the new normal for infrastructure systems.
- COVID-19 and the US HVAC sector.
- Designing HVAC to resist harmful pathogenic microorganisms (bacteria and viruses such as influenza and 2019-nCov).
- Ensuring good indoor air quality in buildings.
- 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.
- Pandemic migration.
- Public Health Act 1984.
- Social distancing on construction sites.
- Sources of external pollution.
- TSI Environmental dust monitoring system.
- Ultra Low Emission Zone.
- United Nations Economic Commission for Europe UNECE.
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