Understanding the link between Climate Change policies and the changing nature of indoor air pollutants
Briony Turner is a member of the new Working Party on Indoor Air Quality & Child Health, led by Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) in collaboration with the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).
When we build or refurbish buildings, we do so with a building lifetime, or an extension to it, in mind. Over the course of that lifetime the environment around those buildings will vary, both in terms of climate and air quality. Pollutants can ingress indoors from outdoors and changes in external temperatures can impact on indoor air quality – for instance the Working Party on Indoor Air Quality & Child Health considers excess heat and moisture as pollutants – for homes in urban areas, mitigating the urban heat island is important for avoiding excessive indoor heat and needs to be a factor considered over the lifetime of buildings, accounting for anticipated changes in climate during that period.
It is not just about the impacts of climate change. There are complex interactions between our policy systems and built environment. For instance, I was struck by a talk Professor Martin Williams, from King’s College London, gave at the scoping event for the working party. He took us through how policies to help the UK meet its climate change carbon emissions mitigation obligations will change the types of pollutants we see outdoors over the lifetime of much of our housing and school stock. If biomass is incentivised for reducing carbon emissions, it could lead to an increase in exposure to primary particulate matter combustion products, including carcinogens, in the period 2030-2050.
Over the course of a home or a school’s building life time, children will pass through entire childhoods from prenatal to adulthood. We cannot look at the exposure levels of pollutants that cause harm to children inside our homes and schools in a static manner. We need to consider changes we know will, or are likely, to occur, over the building lifetime and we need to think about how industry can account for those changes, as well as variations according to location and vulnerability of occupants in development and refurbishment processes. The finance sector is already thinking about this, with many institutions that finance building assets, signing up to the Bloomberg Task Force recommendations** on climate-related financial disclosure which triggers greater scrutiny of climate risk assessment and places a value on improvements to asset resilience to climate change.
With improvements in open access to academic research, in combination with increasing affordability and access to high calibre sensors, underpinned by the UK’s historical expertise in engineering, we are entering an exciting era where we can produce bespoke solutions based on a building’s structure, design, location and occupant profile and near real time air quality data. There will be work to do for policymakers and regulators to ensure our new stock is fit and healthy for future generations but the majority of our buildings are already in place and functioning, so we need to work together to identify those that present a risk to health and transform them into homes and schools that provide optimal environments for the course of childhood (and adulthood).