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Why is Air Quality Important?

An image of an air conditioning vent with a plant in the foreground
04 June 2021 | Updated 07 June 2021
 

Last month was National Clean Air Month in the US. Why is air quality important?

The pandemic has brought consideration of clean air to the public eye, but the quality of what we breathe in has long been a signifier of our societies’ impact on both human and environmental health. Including the potential for passing infection, why is both indoor and outdoor pollution of this kind important to address?

Indoor and outdoor air quality is almost unavoidably linked. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, indoor and outdoor air pollution is the most urgent environmental health crisis in the world. Air pollution in some of the worst affected cities has been likened in effect to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Indoors, the pandemic has brought it to our attention that we ventilate this air into our workspaces, and that our increase in home boiler emissions with working remotely over winter has leaked out and contributed to the former.

Somewhat surprisingly, research from winter 2020 predicted that office closures wouldn't lead to the decline in emissions that might be expected. Fewer people were commuting, but research showed home workers were taking more frequent drives to reach facilities away from homes in rural areas, where they might have had short journeys from their city workplace to meet these same requirements.

A study we reported on in September 2020, “Breathing Life into the UK Economy”, revealed that the UK economy could benefit by £1.6 billion annually by reducing premature deaths, sickness absence and lower productivity at work if the UK met the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for air pollution, which are stricter than the current UK legal limits. “I am doing everything in my power to stop Londoners breathing air so filthy that it damages children’s lungs and causes thousands of premature deaths," said Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London.

One of the most obvious approaches to tackle this is to keep more plants around us in any space, as well as encourage and protect our forests with the natural ecosystems that support them, all of which deliver us oxygen in return for carbon – how else can our facilities be managed to benefit our air?

 

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Addressing Pollution Through Emissions

 

Research has shown again and again that air pollution is detrimental to people and the environment directly, as well as contributing to rapid climate change, hence the global push for net-zero targets. The UK has set a net-zero carbon target for 2050. While 45 per cent of FTSE 100 companies have committed to achieving net-zero by 2050 or sooner, only 16 per cent have a plan on how they will achieve it. Other FTSE companies require support to address the knowledge gap, helping to ensure that widespread net-zero carbon commitments are rolled out alongside robust and credible plans for organizations of all sizes. 

Planet Mark have begun a physical and virtual eight-month tour that aims to address this by taking the net-zero carbon message to communities across the UK in support of the UN-backed Race to Zero campaign, the world’s largest alliance of actors committed to halving global emissions by 2030 and of course achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. It will highlight how businesses can set their own credible net zero carbon targets in line with Race to Zero’s rigorous minimum criteria and implement plans to achieve them.  

There are many ways that businesses can attempt a manageable address of their carbon footprint, in some that may even align with current convenience. The Global Marine Group is implementing a flexible working initiative to reduce CO2 emissions by 233.11 tonnes annually. The programme will allow employees worldwide to have more control over their work-life balance and is intended to lead to a massive positive impact on the business’ CO2 output. 

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions forced GMG to adapt its working practices over the past year, in order to maintain their growth trajectory. Like so many others, they invested in remote working at the start of the pandemic to ensure there was little to no disruption for their staff or customers. 

The average UK commute by car is 23 miles per day. GMG has 315 office-based employees in the UK. In the last 12 months, GMG has saved 1,702,575 commuter miles on UK roads by facilitating teams to work from home. This equates to 388.52 tonnes of CO2 not being released into the atmosphere since the first lockdown began.

Given the flexible, hybrid approach that is going to be offered to all going forward, this will mean less energy, heating and lighting within offices, and may also reduce commuter miles by on average 60 per cent per person – equating to a huge annual saving of 233.11 tonnes of CO2 emissions.  

 

Indoor Air Quality

 

Tackling the climate emergency and choking city smog is going to take sustained effort over many years. However, the issue of air quality now is a real concern in the controlled environments where we breathe most, at work, in facilities of leisure, and at home. The importance of air quality and adequate ventilation in the COVID-19 response has also been widely documented, with ventilation measures considered the most vital engineering mechanisms in infection control within buildings. Research from both REHA and CIBSE shows that adequate ventilation and effective air distribution can minimise the risk of cross-infection from 1.5 metres onward.

Speaking to CPA Engineered Solutions about their new air purifier the Biojet, they pointed out that Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) is now forming part of CIBSE ventilation guidance for COVID 19 and independent testing has shown that UVC is effective at inactivating coronaviruses when the correct dosage is applied.  Combined with ventilation and purification measures, this technology is considered to be amongst the most vital engineering applications in infection control. “The Biojet and similar technologies should be considered as solutions for the future-proofing of our buildings against both existing microbial threats, and the inevitable arrival of similar pathogenic microbes like COVID 19," said Emmet O’Callaghan UVGI product specialist at CPA.

"The recent pandemic has shown the damage that can be caused due to Lockdown, so consideration should be given to protecting our buildings against such threats." 

Cody Stahl, Account Manager at EnviroKlenz, highlighted how this is vital for everyday wellbeing and productivity as well. In his Spotlight Interview with us, he explains how having high filtration capability like that featured in EnviroKlenz Air System +, which can be wall-mounted or portable for use in high traffic areas, helps to improve overall workplace performance – employees take less sick days and experience better overall satisfaction.

 

"We have an effective solution to the indoor air quality challenge, which gives us some much-needed breathing space."


 

– Suzi Stringer
Walley Quarry Neighbour, LFG Protestor

 

There are benefits for high tech solutions to air quality in all our living facilities. Walley Quarry in Silverdale has long been a problem for those in the area – national news coverage has recently noted the Hydrogen Sulphide levels exceeding WHO guidelines and noxious landfill gases (LFG) that are plaguing the local community. Clenzair approached Suzi Stringer, a protestor with a background in engineering and science, to suggest that their system using Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization (NPBI) could help her situation. 

"We agreed to a trial in our home as it is one of the closest houses to the landfill," she said. "The trial was to test whether the technology could eliminate the noxious gases from the indoor spaces in our homes. Over the last few weeks, we have tested the system in various positions and at various fan speeds. I wasn't expecting too much as we have tried many air purification systems over the last few years. The results have been really interesting; after just 24 hours I wrote to [Clenzair], thanking them, even though this was just an initial trial.

"For the first time, myself and my 1-year-old daughter slept through the night because there was no odour in the property – although outside was awful. The next night, we had an invasion of landfill gases from the site into our home; the system wasn’t able to completely neutralise all the gases immediately, but having it installed meant that the air cleared much quicker than without it.

"We have a mountain to climb with the larger problem that is getting the Environment Agency (EA), Walley’s Quarry [owned by Red Industries], and the government to get the site under control, but in the meantime, we have an effective solution to the indoor air quality challenge, which gives us some much-needed breathing space."

 

Picture: an image of an air conditioning vent with a plant in the foreground.

Article written by Bailey Sparkes | Published 04 June 2021

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