The annual alert that some parts of the UK have already hit their legal limit of pollution in January is becoming all too familiar. In 2017, parts of London surpassed the limit just five days into January and just one year later, Brixton Road in Lambeth topped levels within 28 days. While research has shown that pollution levels in the capital are slowly dropping, two million people are living with illegal air pollution and the UK received a final warning from the European Commission about the continuous breach of air pollution levels last year.
If that wasn’t bleak enough, you can’t simply shut the doors and windows on the problem as new research shows that pollution levels inside our homes can be higher than those outside. Last month, a study commissioned by environment charity Global Action Plan found that indoor air pollution can be 3.5 times worse than outdoor air pollution and at its peak can be up to 560 times higher.
The study looked at four UK towns and cities – London, Pontypridd, Liverpool and Lancaster – over a 24 hour period and compared the levels of pollution inside and outside. “This study provides early indicators of the scale of the air pollution challenge that we face in the UK – not only on our streets but in our homes,” says Professor Stephen Holgate, a leading health and air pollution expert. “With children spending increasing hours indoors exposing them to ultra-fine particles of pollution, which can enter the bloodstream and could have a greater impact on vital organs, urgent action needs to be taken to address this issue of indoor air pollution.
Cooking, candles and log burners were outlined as some of the biggest culprits in the study. Another study released last week also confirmed that 45% of homes in the UK had levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) that exceeded healthy levels. Formaldehyde was highlighted as one of the worst VOCs, with a fifth of homes having twice the amount of safe levels. It’s regularly used in wood products, including MDF, furniture, paints and varnishes. However, it’s worth looking at the ingredients in your cleaning products, hand sanitisers, air fresheners, hair dye and scented candles.
And, if you thought indoor air pollution was being touted by scaremongers: “This is a major public health issue that contributes to up to 36,000 deaths in the UK each year,” says Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation. “Research shows that air pollution can affect your heart and circulation system in numerous ways, and can increase the risk of life threatening heart attacks and strokes in vulnerable people.”
There are ways to help reduce the pollution levels in your home without radically changing your lifestyle. “There are simple things householders can do to protect themselves, such as buying low VOC labelled products, using fragrance-free, milder cleaning products, ensuring they source MDF that meets European standards, and opening windows,” says Chris Large, from Global Action Plan.
Simply opening the windows regularly, especially after cooking to air out your home can help. Switching your cleaning products to formulas with lower chemicals, such as Ecozone’s 3-in-1 Anti-Bacterial Multi Surface Spray and Lemon Myrtle Anti-Bacterial Multi Surface Cleaner by Bio-Nature, will also help to slightly reduce indoor air pollution levels. For more cleaner home options, explore VH Living.