Skip navigation
Sun spells by window with bright stream of light and visible particles indoors in room isolated.

How the UK government can enhance indoor air quality

part of UK Clean Air Day 2024

Start reading

How the UK government can enhance indoor air quality

As the UK public take to the polls on July 4 2024, SEI’s Sarah West joined a Policy Connect webinar dedicated to raising indoor air quality on the national agenda. With experts converging to discuss actionable steps, the message was unequivocal: the next UK government must adopt a unified approach to clean up our indoor air – a matter of urgent public health and environmental justice.

Jennifer Aghaji, Sarah West / Published on 4 July 2024

Despite prior commitments under the UK Clean Air Strategy 2019, there is still an opportunity for improvement in the area of indoor air quality (IAQ). Currently, multiple UK government departments handle different pollutants independently, which presents an opportunity for a more streamlined and coordinated approach to effectively manage and enhance IAQ.

The recent Policy Connect webinar, held to mark the UK Clean Air Day 2024, aimed to establish a plan of action for IAQ that the new government could adopt after the July general election. Sarah West, SEI York Centre Director, joined an expert panel including Natalie Bennett, former Leader of the Green Party and current peer, Douglas Booker from the University of Leeds, Matt Towner from Impact on Urban Health and Simon Jones from the Air Quality Matters podcast.

Key discussions and insights

Empowerment through awareness

Raising awareness about the harmful effects of air pollution is crucial. However, it is equally important to offer actionable solutions. Recently, the Royal Society for Chemistry raised concerns about the lack of chemical regulation in the UK, particularly with the rise in the use of pollutants known as “forever chemicals,” which are linked to health concerns. Due to a lack of awareness, people often struggle to understand what to do about indoor air pollutants, leading to consumer habits that bring harmful chemicals into homes. Simple actions, such as using extractor fans during cooking and cleaning, can help remove pollutants from indoor air, although access to such equipment is not universal. Opening windows to ventilate spaces during cooking and cleaning is another action people can take.

It is crucial to understand the impact of air pollution on health, including pollutants found indoors, as the majority of people spend most of their time inside. Ensuring regular access to clean air through adequate ventilation such as operable windows and working extractor fans, and where needed, filtration systems, is essential for reducing the risk of negative health effects from poor indoor air quality and for reducing the spread of infectious diseases.

It is vital to involve the public in discussions about indoor air quality, including those who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of poor air quality, for example, those with respiratory conditions, and those who are more exposed to poor quality air, including low-income and minority ethnic groups who tend to live in areas with more polluted outdoor air and in housing that may have poorer indoor air.  Alongside raising awareness of the issue and what actions can be taken by individuals to address air pollution, robust legislation around building standards, maintenance of windows, fans and other ventilation systems, and the sources of air pollution in homes, can all foster a healthier indoor environment. 

Bridging the gaps, locally and globally

While IAQ issues are prevalent across the globe, the new UK government has the opportunity to show leadership by advocating for the integration of climate change and air quality policies internationally. This can be done via facilitating cross-departmental collaboration, and addressing IAQ through a unified approach and framework. Getting it right locally will build best practices globally.

Best practices can be established through the strategic use of technology. Many countries globally have implemented third-party oversight of ventilation systems, which ensures both higher quality standards and independence. The UK risks falling behind if it fails to adopt similar practices. Additionally, it is vital for governments to acknowledge the increasing significance of technological innovations. Sensors, for example, can effectively assess and monitor air quality and the efficacy of ventilation in  occupied spaces. Embracing these technological advancements is crucial for governments to guarantee proper building control and to maintain IAQ at optimal levels.

The private sector as air quality enablers

The private sector plays a pivotal role in addressing air quality and sustainability, independent of government mandates. Numerous global companies, including those in the Alliance for Clean Air, are already deeply engaged in monitoring air quality, educating the public and initiating efforts to reduce air pollution throughout their supply chains. While government legislation plays a fundamental role, the initiatives undertaken voluntarily by the private sector are significant and important. Expanding initiatives like the Alliance could further support how businesses improve IAQ, particularly in densely populated areas.

Collaboration between the government and a diverse array of stakeholders is essential for effectively addressing indoor air pollution. A clear and actionable roadmap, based on a solid IAQ policy, is necessary to facilitate system change. This roadmap should be anchored in the real-world experiences of vulnerable populations across diverse housing situations and enforced at the local level to ensure meaningful improvements. Without these measures, policy changes risk remaining theoretical rather than translating into tangible, real-world benefits.

Topics and subtopics
Air : Cities
Related centres
SEI York

Design and development by Soapbox.