The quality of air has a dramatic effect on the health and efficiency of a production plant or facility and its staff. We get an overview of the main concerns, the dangers and the benefits of Clean Air.
• Why indoor air can be more dangerous
• What legislation surrounds pollutants
• Which countries are more exposed
• How you measure air quality
• How to compare outside air and inside air
• The two leading sources of threats to health
• Benefits of cleaner air
For your convenience, here is a 90% accurate automated transcript of the podcast.
Dusty Rhodes 0:00
Hello and welcome to Let's talk clean air, where we find out more about how clean air can affect the quality process for you and the workplace. In this our first podcast we get an overview of why we should be thinking about air quality, along with the pros and cons to consider. My name is Dusty Rhodes and joining me today is environmental campaigner and advisor Simon Birkett, along with Peter diamond from Camp Phil, a little about Simon Birkett, he moved from a career in finance to found clean air a campaign to help the City of London comply with WHO guidelines for air quality. He's a regular contributor internationally on the issue of air pollution. And Peter dyment is a technical manager at camfil, a global organisation who provide commercial and industrial systems for air filtration and air pollution control, which improves worker and equipment productivity and minimises energy use. Simon, if I can start with you what are the main concerns around air quality that people should be thinking about?
Simon Birkett 1:06
Well, air pollution is the world's largest environmental health risk, killing an estimated 7 million people every year. And the way I like to think about it is that air pollutants comprise local air pollution or pollution, and greenhouse gases. And then obviously, the good stuff that we breathe. Those greenhouse gases are what causes climate change. And the local air pollutants comprise really two main categories, I think of them as particles, and gases. And the particles are regulated in a lump for health and legal purposes. So you hear about pm 1pm 2.5, pm 10, which are particles up to those diameters, but which can come from any source whatsoever construction, tire and brake wear anything. Whereas the cloud of gases in air pollution, really are individual gases, of course, such as nitrogen dioxide, which is a toxic gas. And so you hear about these individual gases, but when you find those in streets and things, it's typically representative of a cloud of those gases.
Dusty Rhodes 2:19
Now, when you say that 7 million people a year die from the, you know, bad quality air, are you talking in a specific location or a general type of location around the world? Or is this evenly spread around the globe?
Simon Birkett 2:33
That's a very good question. So in 1952, during the Great Smog, people were worried about the respiratory effects from short term exposure to very visible air pollution from coal or wood burning. And it was very easy to assess the health effects because pollution in the city would go up, and then two or three days later, you could count the coffins. But it wasn't really until about 1995 that a very large study in the United States looked at pollution levels and death rates in six cities, the famous six cities study. And what they found was that long term exposure to find particles, pm 2.5 was actually a much bigger cause of death, on average, than what happens during some of these air pollution episodes, which had been reduced by things such as the Clean Air Act. So what we know now is that long term exposure is a big health risks combined, of course, with the short term episodes, and that, of course, can hit you or me anywhere in a city or town. So near busy roads, near factories, places like that, but also in near other sources, outside towns, such as airports or, or big agricultural installations.
Dusty Rhodes 3:59
Now, as we know, legislation and law and regulations take a long time. And you mentioned 1995, they're where they're kind of going, this is a serious problem, and it's killing millions of people. Is the law catching up? Are there any regulations being pushed through now about air quality?
Simon Birkett 4:17
Fortunately, yes, so in 2005, it wasn't they weren't published in 2006. But the World Health Organisation published air quality guidelines for many of the pollutants that we worry about. And those air quality guidelines really give a sense of the levels where you're probably safe. The World Health Organisation is very clear, however, that their guidelines they're not recommendations or limits, because in many cases, there is no safe level of exposure to air pollution. Now, a few years later, those who guidelines World Health Organisation guidelines were put in new air quality laws which were brought tightened up, and that they were published in 2008 in Europe, and those binding legal limits have been a big, a big force for good in terms of cleaning up our air in cities. And we've seen some quite significant changes, particularly for example, during the pandemic. But what is surprising is that while our diesel pollution was much lower last year during the various lockdowns, which is not surprising, because vehicles haven't been on the roads, but what is surprising to me is how much it has fallen, which shows the extent of the problem of diesel. But also we found that particle levels these some Pm 2.5 PM, ones Pm 10s did not reduce, even during those lockdowns. And actually ozone was worse, in many cases, inside cities and outside.
Dusty Rhodes 5:59
Is there anything that can be done about that?
Simon Birkett 6:02
There is what we need to do. Most important is to think of the air as one thing not as air quality or greenhouse gases or other things. And by thinking of it as one thing that the solution just sort of stares you in the face, we need to get to zero air emissions, we need to hammer down all sources of air pollution inside buildings and out. Because if we do that, we protect public health. And of course, we protect ourselves and fight against climate change.
Dusty Rhodes 6:33
So we are at risk of air pollution pretty much evenly across the globe. So it is a planetary thing of the people who live on this planet, as in us human beings, what kind of people are most at risk.
Simon Birkett 6:46
So around the world, there are some countries which are exposed, where people are exposed to more of one pollutant than another. So for example, in India or Eastern Europe, people can be exposed to agricultural, you know, burning of stubble and things or coal fired power stations. In cities in Western Europe, we're worried about different sources such as diesel fumes and gas eating and cooking and wood burning. Different people are affected by this. So if you think of, I guess, a category of vulnerable people, children whose lungs for example, a growing and their bodies are developing, if their lung size is doesn't fully develop, or it's reduced, of course, they never get that lung size back. So that will affect those children's health for their entire life. Older people, frail people with weaker lungs or hearts, of course, are at risk. Many people who are sick, say, for example, in hospitals, but I think there is a large other category of people who are vulnerable because of underlying health conditions. And we see that there are millions of those, of course, which is what we're being told during this vaccination programme for, for people most at risk.
Dusty Rhodes 8:06
So when you talk about underlying health conditions, I think this is possibly the one that I would think of in my head when I'm thinking about a factory or a facility or an office building. And if the air is improperly regulated in those areas, are people with underlying conditions, possibly more likely to be affected? Well,
Simon Birkett 8:27
there's no question I mean, most of us are, on average, we spend about well over 90% of our time indoors in Western Europe and the developed world. And of course, what we have indoors is, of course, the fine particles and gases from outside. But we also have a whole range of sources of air pollution from inside such as dust, candles, fireplaces, and stoves, aerosols and pathogens, such as viruses, volatile organic compounds, from cleaning products, formaldehyde from furnishings, and of course, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide from gas heating and cooking. So you've got this real cocktail of pollutants indoors, plus what comes from outdoors. No. And if you're vulnerable outside, you'll, of course, be vulnerable inside. So it really is important that we think about getting rid of all of these harmful air pollutants, no, preferably at their source.
Dusty Rhodes 9:35
That'd be bring air patriot on that. Peter assignment says say that we spend a huge amount of our time indoors. And you would automatically assume that you're safer indoors. What do you say to people who assumed that they're safer indoors?
Peter Dyment 9:50
Well, thank you very much for that one. dusty Yes, I'm very much would like to put forward the case that we cannot assume that indoor air is safe for us to breathe without risk to health. Because we have to bear in mind the threats to our health and there are principally from two sources. Simon's outlined the outdoor air pollution problem in terms of in cities, traffic emissions from industrial processes, burning of fossil fuels, incineration of rubbish, this sort of thing can all contribute. And so we have to ventilate our buildings. Because ventilation is a key requirement for people living and working in buildings. And we need to, if nothing else, dilute the air from and relieve the level of carbon dioxide, because we need to replace that and disperse it as much as possible, particularly in crowded indoor circumstances. So the two main risks to health are outdoor air pollution coming in from diesel traffic emissions or even boilers and burning of fossil fuels. There's a lot of outdoor sources. But indoors, it's the risk of transmission of COVID-19. Based on aerosol particles that are emitted from infected people, ventilation systems, when they're properly set up with good air cleaning capability can offset and mitigate both of these sources of concern. And in fact, you know, we're under a major threat to our health from COVID-19 air transmission. And we've always been for the last 1015 years subject to high levels of outdoor air pollution in the form of as Simon has said, Fine combustion particulates is PMS, particulate matter. PM1 PM2.5 PM 10, the figure stands for microns, a micron is a very small particle sat a 1,000th of a millimetre, you can't actually see them, once they're below 10 microns. So this is effectively invisible to the human eye. But the small particles, the reason they're damaging to health is they can penetrate very easily into the human body. They can be inhaled, and the very small ones, the pm ones, one micron and below, which form a lot of the virus particles and a lot of the traffic emissions can actually get right down into the lungs into a little air sac at the bottom there known as our Viola.
Dusty Rhodes 12:41
And it could it could it be a case then because indoors is a more concentrated and confined area that the air indoors is actually more dangerous than the air outdoors? Well, certainly
Peter Dyment 12:53
it is. If you consider you know, if you get one or two infected people in a building, and you get a build up of infective particles very much it can be very dangerous. And also, as Simon mentioned, you get indoor sources of pollutants VOC's as they're known volatile organic compounds, you can get all sorts of gaseous emissions even nitrogen dioxide inside although principally comes from a lot of the outdoor traffic emissions, that sort of thing. So you need to be looking at World Health Organisation factors that give you the limits for exposure, very important to consider. And air is actually categorised by technical standards, European standards, and they're a very good world standards for judging if you want to clean the air filter performance, and that's where we need to be focusing our attention if we want to have air cleaning systems that are fit for purpose.
Dusty Rhodes 13:55
So tell me what are the three main standards then to use?
Peter Dyment 13:58
Okay, well, the first one which is very important, it's the overarching standard is E n 16798 dash three that trips off the tongue I know. But that one covers essentially its energy in buildings, but it actually outlines the requirements for air filtration as well in part four of the standard as well as part three and what the standard actually does is categorise the air. So it uses the World Health Organisation limiting factors for example, pm 2.5 10 micrograms per metre cubed, uses that as a factor to determine how clean or dirty the areas whether it's fit to breathe and standard assigns outdoor air with od a indoor air, Ida indoor air and supply air that's coming into the building is up so that that's how it categorises the air and in fact it categorises air in the building. 16 different classifications so you know exactly where you stand when you're defining air and describing air in a building. So these are the categories that are used by consulting engineers, designers and specifiers, to make sure that they select filters that are fit for purpose. And the way you work out whether an out of supply air filter is fit for purpose is to work out what the concentrations of for example, pm 2.5 are indoors and outdoors. And then you get a ratio, which determines what filter efficiency you need to choose.
Dusty Rhodes 15:38
Tell me as somebody who's not familiar with these things at all, how do you actually measure these things?
Peter Dyment 15:45
Well, there are two main principles you can use. There's the laboratory instrument for measuring particles, known as particle counting, very accurate, extremely expensive. And so therefore, it tends to be quite often used in laboratory testing, although there are portable units that are quite good and accurate, but they have to be quite frequently recalibrated in order to maintain their accuracy. And then you have what is known as air monitors, which are not quite such good, accurate technology. But they're certainly these days. Definitely good enough to tell you if you've got a problem in terms of concentrations of particulates. And you can actually get measurement sensors for gases as well. So the technology is there and some of the best. And monitoring units can be used not just for outputting data, say to a mobile phone network, and you know, what we call a dashboard, which gives you temperature, humidity, and pm 1pm 2.5 concentration is a curve on a screen in real time storing the data in a mobile phone network. But it can also give you a control function. So you can control a number of air cleaners or air purifiers at the same time and set limits. So you've really got a closed loop of monitoring and control now that's available for people. And we're getting a lot of interest now in offices and schools. And, you know, building managers are very keen to look into this and come up with effective solutions, because, of course, currently schools and no longer being used. So you have to protect people, not just in buildings, but specific buildings where you get a lot of people, schools, hospitals, offices, these are the important places. And of course, people are more than welcome to adopt this technology for their home use. Because a good monitor like this is probably around about five 600 pounds, something like that. So it's although it's expensive when you consider what you get, it's very important. And it gives you an idea of how bad the problem might be in terms of air pollution.
Dusty Rhodes 17:58
And that we talked a lot about the dangers and then painting gloom and doom and stuff like that, what are the benefits of good air in a building?
Peter Dyment 18:09
Well, health, people talk to these days a lot about well being. And there, it's very much the case that if you have good air quality, and I be preaching to the converted, if you're an asthmatic or somebody who has respiratory problems, clean air makes all the difference in the world in terms of making you feel better, more comfortable. And your body just functions better, your brain will work better, you can think more clearly. And you can actually perform better. So that's of interest to employers and people. You know, students who want to learn teachers who are trying to train and teach people and everybody benefits is a, you know, a virtue and
Simon Birkett 19:00
I just jumped in there dusty. I mean, I think now one of the things I talk about when I talk to people in you know, at events and things like that, because a lot of people know that air pollution is a problem. But quite often they don't know what to do about it. And I say, Well, why don't you start by walking down the side streets rather than down the busy roads, where are the trucks and the buses and so on. And quite often when you see people again a few weeks later, it's almost as if the scales have dropped from their eyes. When you walk down those side streets. Of course, it's quieter and nicer. But actually, you can actually feel that the air is cleaner, and you feel better. And it's To me, it's this the opportunity to grasp this sort of cleaner air world, whether it's indoors or outdoors, which really motivates me and why I've spent 15 years campaigning on this issue.
Dusty Rhodes 19:53
Simon, do you think that the air quality regulations need to be redressed?
Simon Birkett 19:58
That's a jolly good, very good Question because the World Health Organisation is expected to publish this year in 2021, New air quality guidelines, I don't have any inside information about that, although I did attend a meeting with the World Health Organisation at the beginning of 20, I think that they will substantially tighten the current air quality guidelines, which were published in 2006. And I think that would just be another reminder with what we're obviously hearing about climate change, why we need to hammer down on all of these harmful emissions at their source. But I see 2021 with all the attention on people's health, but also with the Climate Change Conference in Glasgow at the end of the year in November, I see this really is to me, it is the year of air, it's a great opportunity to bring together people's thinking about public health, about climate change, think of the air as one atmosphere, and really just tackle these problems at their sources. And of course, one of the real lessons that we've learnt during the, you know, terrible time that we've had with extraordinary time that we've had with COVID. And these lockdowns is that people have actually found one nice thing, which is, you know, we've all enjoyed breathing, cleaner air, and I don't think people are going to forget that very quickly. So if we can mobilise some of the strong lessons from this covid 19 pandemic, we can think of things in this one atmosphere sense, and really just hammer down on air pollutants. I think we can re-engineer our cities and our homes and our buildings, and be much healthier and happier in our cities and towns.
Dusty Rhodes 21:54
Peter, do you think the air quality regulations need to be addressed?
Peter Dyment 21:58
I do and they need to address themselves in relation to the new technical standards. I mentioned, Ian 16798 dash three, the World Health Organisation, limiting factors of course, but also the air filtration test standards that are current and very much fit for purpose. Very close to real life performance. You've got ISO 16 894, particulates, air filters, classifying Pm 1pm 2.5 and pm 10. Efficient filters very important to use those standards, and not some of the oldest standards for particulate filters, but also molecular gas filters, which would be ISO 10121, dash two for Molecular carbon filters. And that's the removal of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, NOx and Sox gases, VOC's aldehydes, all that sort of thing. So
Dusty Rhodes 22:55
the regulations and you say are really kind of they need to be redressed to bring them more up to date with modern technology and what we know now,
Peter Dyment 23:03
I think I've had a fairly good say on it. But I would say they need to address themselves for latest technical standards to make sure when they're specifying requirements that they are addressing people with the latest technological developments and technical standards. Okay, Simon,
Dusty Rhodes 23:21
last question for you both actually, but time and first. And what surprised you most about what people don't know about air quality when you're talking to them?
Simon Birkett 23:32
That what a great question. What surprises me is that people just think about indoor air quality as ventilation or fresh air. And I think that is just so, so wrong, that buildings of any sort can have ventilation. They can have air conditioning, or heating, and air filtration, or they can have none of those or two or three of those. So it really is important that people who think about what's happening in buildings, the air in buildings, is that they think about ventilation, which can be opening windows or mechanical ventilation, air conditioning, and of course air filtration. We need to tackle all of these problems. But if we're dealing with the pollutants inside homes and offices and things, we do need air filtration of one sort or another dusty Can I just say one other thing, if I may. Yeah. So I'd like to say thank you to council because this 2021 is the 10th year that can Phil has supported clean air in London's campaign to build public understanding of indoor air quality. And it really has made the whole world of difference to us to have that support from Camfil. But also the sort of advice and guidance from Peter Who I just see as a fantastic expert in this field.
Peter Dyment 25:04
Yeah, thank you very much, Simon, I would just like to say that I think we've barely scratched the surface today with this podcast in terms of, you know, the, the depth of understanding and the solutions that can be offered. I think certainly we need to address you know, air systems and standalone air purification and try and, you know, give people more information about what they can do for themselves to improve their situation. Okay, well, listen,
Dusty Rhodes 25:37
gentlemen, I will leave it there for now. Peter diamond and Simon burger. Thank you very much. If you would like to find out more about this. do follow the links in the show notes. You'll find those in the description of this podcast on your phone or whichever device you're listening to us on. They include links and contact details and anything else that you might need to get more information. Our podcast today was produced by camfil, the world leader in the development and production of air filters and clean air solutions. You can find out more about them at Cam phil.com do join us next month when our podcast looks at airborne viruses and how to protect yourself from new ones that are still to come. To get that automatically just click the subscribe button on your player right now. Until then for myself, Dusty Rhodes, thank you so very much for listening and have a good day.