The 2016 Every Breath We Take report from the Royal College of Physicians is a sobering update on human and cost consequences of poor air quality. And not only outdoor air quality, notoriously poor within many of our cities, but also consequences arising from indoor air quality, significantly triggered through the design, construction and operation of the buildings we live, work and play in.
“Each year in the UK, around 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution, with more linked also to exposure to indoor pollutants”
The report estimates that the cost to society, business and health services in the UK adds up to more than £20 billion every year.
This is a prime example of how, in the built environment we externalise the real cost of low cost construction.
The report focuses on pollutants from buildings that occur during operation, but also touches on pollutants during construction. The high volume of construction transport, predominantly diesel in addition to the pollutants known to be asthmatics, organic & mineral dust, or carcinogenic (asbestos fibres in older buildings, formaldehyde and VOCs in newer builds)
The built environment is responsible for an increasingly complex cocktail of air quality issues:
“Looking to the future, newer ‘green’ workplaces will be constructed, and newer technologies will be developed for use within them. The latter include significant developments in, for example, the use of advanced materials and three-dimensional printing. The construction, occupancy and exposure profiles of newer workplaces will lead to the potential for novel inhaled hazards and risks, and vigilance will be required in order to identify the occupational lung problems attributed to the workplaces of tomorrow”
Every Breath We Take makes a number of recommendations:
Lead by example in the NHS. Is it acceptable to design, build and maintain health facilities that themselves are not net health positive.
Quantify the relationship between indoor air pollution and health. Pressures for ever more energy efficient buildings with lower carbon footprints raise the potential of reducing air quality in homes, offices and schools. An holistic and collaborative effort is required across built environment organisations, research and health organisations to develop policies and standards.
Following the findings of the Every Breath We Take report, there really should be no air quality performance gap, even a small gap will result in human health issues and externalised health costs.
Adopting the increasingly popular Living Building Challenge and Well Build Standard, air quality must become a key element of performance gap analysis. Design stage set the required air quality threshold that is validated post construction, with a fully occupied facility over a 12 month proofing period, and the on a regular on going basis. Established standards such as BREEAM and LEED must make award of certification dependent on proven air quality.
This is a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) issue of high magnitude for those who commission buildings, those who design and construction and those who manage buildings, anything less can not be acceptable to a responsible built environment sector.
Based on extract from FutuREstorative