What do you think of the Government’s approach to tackling indoor air pollution?



According to a Royal College of Physicians report on air pollution, the UK must strengthen its understanding on the relationship between indoor air pollution and health, including poor air quality in homes, schools and workplaces.

The report says that each year there are around 40,000 deaths attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution, but the numbers linked to exposure of indoor pollutants, such as radon and second hand smoke, is unknown. The report says that the cost of health problems relating to air pollution amounts to £20 billion a year.

What are the main causes of indoor air pollution?

Indoor air pollution is a mixture of:

-pollutants generated inside a building from building materials, furniture and furnishings, or by activities such as cooking, heating, smoking and use of paints, varnishes, cleaning products, air fresheners etc.

-pollutants generated outside a building (by industrial processes, traffic emissions, etc.) that migrate indoors through windows or other means of ventilation.

-natural radon gas that enters buildings from the ground. (Radon is a radioactive gas, we can't see, smell or taste it: you need special equipment to detect it. It comes from the rocks and soil found everywhere in the UK http://www.ukradon.org/information)

Levels of indoor air pollution thus depend on a range of internal and external factors. These include behaviours such as smoking, as well as geographic factors such as whether the home is in a high risk-radon area, or in close proximity to a busy road. Moreover, levels of pollutants may vary from room to room within a home.


Heating and cooking appliances and environmental tobacco smoke are the most important indoor sources of pollution in UK homes. The main health effects are to the lungs and heart. Children and those who are already ill are most at risk.  Future concerns include the potential chronic (long-term) health effects of pollutants at low levels of exposure.


According to the World Health Organisation, 4.3 million people a year die prematurely from illness attributable to the household air pollution caused by the inefficient use of solid fuels (2012 data) for cooking. Among these deaths:


  • 12% are due to pneumonia
  • 34% from stroke
  • 26% from ischaemic heart disease
  • 22% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and
  • 6% from lung cancer.


Building regulations and energy efficient homes

When houses in the UK are built, they have to adhere to building regulations. In recent years, house building and renovation has focused on energy efficiency to keep use and cost down to a minimum. Energy efficient homes require buildings to be air-tight which can restrict ventilation and are thus prone to the accumulation of air pollutants. Regulations cover both these issues; on ventilation, it specifies indoor air quality standards for certain substances and recommends minimum levels of ventilation through a building. The demand for energy efficient buildings is likely to increase, partly in response to growing concerns over climate change.

Changing building regulations is one possible way to improve indoor air quality. For instance, the regulations could place greater emphasis on ventilation and the quality of the outdoor air, or set air quality standards for common indoor air pollutants.

Government action

The Government says that there are already protections in place to safeguard people from indoor air pollution: National planning policy in England states that new developments should be appropriate for its location, taking proper account of the effects of pollution on people's health, and building regulations require adequate means of ventilation for people in buildings. This requirement applies when new buildings are constructed or work is carried out on existing buildings. The Government has also issued additional guidance regarding ventilation in air-tight buildings in its building regulations.

In 2010, the Government amended building regulations to deliver their zero-carbon policies but also attempt to ensure energy efficient buildings are healthy places to live. They did so by introducing new requirements and guidance for installation and commissioning of ventilation systems and ensuring that combustion appliances can continue to function safely in more air-tight homes. In addition, they introduced a provision for carbon monoxide alarms to be installed with all solid fuel appliances.

The Government has also supported campaigns to raise awareness and education about indoor air pollution and monitoring pollutants.

Other action

According to analysis conducted by the House of Commons & Lords, reducing emissions of pollutants from outdoor sources such as traffic and industrial processes should result in lower levels of indoor air pollution. While most areas of the UK meet the EU targets for air pollutants, monitoring sites in Central London regularly exceed permitted EU levels. It also suggested that there is a need for closer co-ordination of policy between indoor & outdoor pollution as much of the focus of regulatory activity is concerned with only monitoring and controlling levels of outdoor air pollution sources such as traffic and industry.

Another way to limit indoor emissions is to choose products wisely. Flueless gas appliances can be a major source of carbon and nitrogen oxides, particles and water vapour in the home. Other sources of pollutants include furniture, furnishings, paints and DIY products. While some European countries have legislation on the composition and labelling of building materials for volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, the UK does not currently require such labelling. The My Health, My Home campaign has called for the ventilation of gas and electricity in homes to become a 'controlled service' (under government control) to ensure they are properly installed https://indoorairpollution.co.uk/resources/


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Nile Nugnez
September 23, 2016 at 22:31 pm

By tackling - in a serious way - outdoor air pollution, the government would automatically reduce indoor air pollution. And the best way to tackle outdoor air pollution is to STOP cutting down mature trees. They clean off 70 times more pollutants than newly planted trees.

David Day
September 25, 2016 at 21:38 pm

We are more at risk from "Experts" scaring us to death than any of the s "So-Called" pollutants listed. For goodness sake leave us alone to get on with our lives. We are living longer than ever. The Government has a vested interest in us smoking, drinking, spraying aerosols, etc etc. 'A' we pay oodles of taxes and 'B' we die before we are a drain on the state (Despite paying taxes from the time we left school until the day we die).

Peter Beauchamp
September 26, 2016 at 07:55 am

We are more at risk from "Experts" scaring us to death than any of the s "So-Called" pollutants listed. For goodness sake leave us alone to get on with our lives. We are living longer than ever. The Government has a vested interest in us smoking, drinking, spraying aerosols, etc etc. 'A' we pay oodles of taxes and 'B' we die before we are a drain on the state (Despite paying taxes from the time we left school until the day we die).

Bee Warren
September 26, 2016 at 00:44 am

As a lung disease sufferer I am highly sensitive to the least air pollution which affects me badly. In my own home I can avoid solvents, air 'fresheners', new furnishings, etc. although some shops with new fabrics or formaldehyde impregnated furniture will induce dreadful coughing fits. But nowadays outdoors can be worse than indoors. Walking by heavy traffic or past smoking areas in public places is very unpleasant too. In pubs smokers do not appreciate that standing just outside the door so the smoke drifts in is almost as bad as if they were in the room and that coming in after a smoke they carry it with them. Homes should not be airtight for several reasons although good insulation is important. A properly designed ventilation system should not cause cold draughts.

September 27, 2016 at 12:38 pm

lets not overcook this one. People in their own homes can do what they want. Any focus should be on public buildings especially eating and drinking establishments.

Terence Magee
November 12, 2016 at 19:20 pm

A very serious matter

November 16, 2016 at 12:33 pm

Seems like just a side-effect of the terrible outdoor air pollution so let's not be distracted from tackling that first.