Growing link between air pollution and youth respiratory problems

A joint report by Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and the Royal College of Physicians has highlighted increasing evidence linking indoor air pollution and respiratory problems in children.

The report, The Inside Story: Health effects of indoor air quality on children and young people, presents evidence linking indoor air pollution to a range of childhood health problems including asthma, wheezing, conjunctivitis, dermatitis and eczema. The authors of the paper warn that indoor air quality tends to be poorer in low quality housing where ventilation may be inadequate or insufficient.

The report recommends that local authorities should have the power to require improvements where air quality fails to meet minimum standards in local authority schools and houses, following NICE guidelines for Indoor air quality at home.. The report recommends: legally binding performance standards for indoor air quality to include ventilation rates, maximum concentration levels for specific pollutants, labelling of materials, and testing of appliances; air quality tests when local authority construction is complete and before the building is signed off; and compliance tests after construction stages and assessment of buildings once occupied – this may require ring-fenced resources for local authorities to take enforcement action.

The two organisations also recommend the creation of a national fund to support improvements for low income residents who report issues with ventilation and air quality.

Jonathan Grigg, Paediatric Respiratory Consultant from the RCPCH, said: “We’re finally paying attention to the quality of our outdoor air and this is long overdue. It’s harder to get population level data on the quality of indoor air but the evidence in this report paints a worrying picture. Children in the UK spend most of their time indoors, with just 68 minutes spent outside on an average day. Too many of our homes and schools are damp and poorly ventilated – this is adversely affecting the health of children.”

Stephen Holgate, special advisor for the Royal College of Physicians said: “Poorer households have fewer choices about where to live and where to go to school. More than three million families live in poor quality housing in the UK. Most will not have enough money to make improvements and have no option but to make do with damp, under-ventilated environments. We need to offer support at local authority level – likewise with schools. If we ask our children to spend their childhood days in unhealthy spaces, then we’re storing up problems for future health.”

David Renard, the Local Government Association’s transport spokesman, said: “Good air quality is vital for our health and wellbeing and councils, who are already leading the way in tackling air pollution, will take on board any good practice guidance that helps continue to protect vulnerable people and keep them safe. However developers, manufacturers, households and businesses can all play a role in addressing this.

“Developers need to factor in proper ventilation when building homes, and people need to be aware that the impact of poor air quality isn’t just an outdoor problem caused by vehicles. Manufacturers of sprays and disinfectants should also do more to provide warnings about ventilated spaces.

“Councils want to work with the government to reduce harmful emissions, and have introduced a range of measures to tackle air pollution, such as Clean Air Zones, encouraging the use of electric vehicles with recharging points, promoting cycling, investing in cleaner buses, managing borough-wide air pollution monitoring networks, planning for new places in ways that improve air quality, and engaging with businesses to increase awareness and reduce their environmental impact.

“But for air quality plans to be successful, they need to be underpinned by local flexibility and sufficient funding, while issues around resourcing and capacity also need to be addressed, as well as educating the public around the need to reduce pollution.”

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