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All-party parliamentary debate puts spotlight on air quality

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) debate highlights need to improve awareness of health impacts, while Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill would define ‘clean air’ indoors and outdoors
25 May 2023 , Kerry Taylor-Smith

CIEH calls for an integrated, top-down strategy led by central government and enabled by local authorities

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is an emerging public health crisis, and the UK government is being urged to rethink its clean air standards and laws following an industry debate on health and carbon monoxide safety.

The debate, hosted by two separate all-party parliamentary groups (APPGs) on May 10th, prompted calls for a long-term, coherent strategy to improve ventilation and monitoring. It discussed the health impacts of poor IAQ, suggested where meaningful changes might be introduced, and studied proposed legislation within the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill.

Provisions within the Bill, passed by the House of Lords last year but awaiting a further reading by MPs in the House of Commons, could provide changes regarding the responsibility of building operators, authorities and the HVAC industry around how IAQ is being monitored, measured and addressed.

Jason Torrance, interim Chief Executive of the UK100 network of local authorities, described the bill as “an example of the pioneering legislation” urgently needed to address poor air quality both in external and indoor environments.

Citing Defra figures from February, which revealed wood burning was the biggest source of PM2.5 pollution and growing, he said: “It's easy to think of air pollution as just a road transport and exhaust emissions problem, but it is more complicated than that. The statistics reveal the worrying scale of the government's air quality failures — with the PM2.5 emissions, just about the deadliest air pollutant, not just rising, but exceeding legal limits.”

Torrance also argued the government’s draft Clean Air Strategy published in April offered very little change and passed responsibility for air quality onto local authorities without giving them improved resources to manage IAQ.

"Urgent action is necessary to put in place new clean air legislation and stronger air pollution standards," added Torrance.

“Achieving clean air has the potential to protect life, improve health, and mitigate climate change.”

The debate also highlighted the need to improve public awareness about the health impacts of IAQ, which Dr Sarah West of the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York said is an important step to introduce change and empower people to take effective action on air quality.

“Achieving clean air has the potential to protect life, improve health, and mitigate climate change,” said West. “The Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill would comprehensively define ‘clean air’ for both indoor and outdoor environments, setting legal limits on the levels of pollutants and emissions that clean air can contain.”

It would also enable regulations to be placed on owners of buildings used as places of work or by the public, requiring them to monitor and report on air quality. West said this is important because “without an understanding of what our air contains, we can’t plan effective action to improve it. Responsibility doesn’t only lie with individuals.”

Ciaran Donaghy, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Executive, CIEH said, “Air Quality is an urgent, multifaceted, and often poorly understood public health crisis. There needs to be an integrated, top-down strategy led by central government and enabled by local authorities, which treats air pollution holistically, aiming to tackle its various sources both outdoor and indoor.

“The government’s recently published Air Quality Strategy fails to deliver upon this, and we would recommend the government reconsiders its approach to urgently address this issue.”


Image credit: Shutterstock

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