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Experts to look at impact of indoor air pollution on child health

Working Group will make raft of recommendations for government and public in autumn 2019

Caroline White

Friday, 22 June 2018

The impact of indoor air pollution on child health is to be investigated for the first time in the UK by a new working group, spearheaded by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) in collaboration with the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).

The move follows an increasing body of evidence over the past 10 years, linking indoor air pollution to a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease, and lung and other cancers. The developing foetus and young children seem to be particularly vulnerable to its effects.

Outdoor and indoor air pollution combined are directly linked to pneumonia and other respiratory diseases that account for almost one in 10 deaths among the under 5s, making air pollution one of the leading threats to children’s health.

The latest research shows that more than two million healthy life years are being lost across Europe every year, with over 9,000 annual deaths attributed to indoor air pollution.

Professor Stephen Holgate, co-chair of the Indoor Air Quality Working Group and special adviser to the RCP on air quality, said: “The adverse health consequences on children of outdoor air pollution are now well established and are influencing policies to reduce exposure.

“However, since children spend 80% of their time indoors and with increasing drives to conserve heat with the ‘sealing’ of homes, pollution exposure indoors becomes a major issue for children’s health and development.”

The Working Group plans to review evidence of the causes and ways in which indoor air pollution in homes and schools adversely affects the health of children, including the potential contributions of climate change on indoor air pollution.

The Group’s report, which is scheduled for publication in autumn 2019, will provide practical recommendations to government on what can be done to reduce indoor air pollution, including for the planning and building of new homes and schools.

This will include looking at steps such as adjusting ventilation, filtering air, and controlling indoor sources of pollution, all of which could substantially reduce the health risks by between 20-44%.

Professor Jonathan Grigg, a paediatric respiratory consultant and Working Group co-chair, added: “The potential for indoor-generated air pollution to cause major health effects in children cannot now be ignored. In this working group, we will not only consider obvious pollutants such as those generated in cooking and heating, but also environments associated with social deprivation that increase the amount of mould spores in the indoor air. 

“For example, in England, the proportion of households living in a dwelling with damp is three times higher for those in the lowest income group, compared with those in the highest income group.”

He added: “Indoor air pollution needs to be taken as seriously as outdoor air pollution.”

Yesterday was Clean Air Day, and Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, BMA board of science chair, said that doctors were increasingly aware of the impact pollutants on respiratory health, and their role in heart disease, diabetes, and dementia, and wanted to take the lead on improving air quality. 

“Tackling the overuse of cars and lorries by expanding clean air zones is a priority, and improving information for consumers on carbon emissions and promoting physically active transport through cycle lanes and safe walking spaces could see vast improvements in air quality,” she said.

“In their workplaces, doctors want an NHS, one of the country’s most energy-intensive organisations, to become a renowned example of energy efficiency, using clean providers, on-site renewables, and environmentally friendly transport,” she suggested.

“With no time to spare, doctors will advocate for improving air quality; the conversation must start today,” she said.

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