Report: Indoor Air Quality and Health

Date released: May 21 2013

The number of deaths caused by smoking in the home could be comparable to the numbers of fatalities from road traffic collisions, according to new research led by NUI Galway and funded under the EPA’s STRIVE Research Programme.

‘Indoor Air Pollution and Health’ is a new in-depth study of air pollution in homes and shows that the concentration of particulate pollution in the homes of smokers who smoke indoors is six times higher than the World Health Organisation’s recommendation for general outdoor air quality.

This research examined the health impacts of air pollution in homes.  It presents new information on levels of indoor air pollutants in homes using solid fuels for heating or cooking and in homes that have a resident smoker. The report highlights the need for public health policy and research professionals to develop interventions to address this.

The research was completed by NUI Galway and researchers at the University of Aberdeen, the Institute of Occupational Medicine, Edinburgh and the University of Birmingham.

Dr Marie Coggins, NUI, Galway explains,

“Our research shows that air quality in homes using the solid fuels coal, wood, peat and gas is mostly comparable to that of outdoor air, however smoking at home creates much greater levels of air pollutants. Levels of particulate pollution were up to 17 times levels found outdoors. The impact of exposure to such levels, on vulnerable groups such as children, in homes where smoking occurs indoors needs urgent action.”

The average European spends 90% of their time indoors so the quality of the air people breathe plays a significant role in their health and well-being. Over the last few decades there have been many advances in the design and construction of domestic dwellings. As a result, the amount of air entering and leaving a typical building is estimated to be 10 times lower now compared to 30 years ago.

Dara Lynott, EPA Deputy Director General said:

“The environment and health are intrinsically linked and this innovative research project on indoor air pollution aims to help protect both. This research, funded under the EPA’s STRIVE Research Programme, has identified air pollutants in homes as one of the key factors related to the exacerbation of respiratory illnesses.  It will help public health policy and research professionals to develop interventions.”

The report authors have called for improved national survey campaigns to determine what proportion of the population is exposed to environmental tobacco smoke at home.  Key recommendations include the following:

 

  • A co-ordinated national campaign to educate smokers and non-smokers about the health effects from smoking at home and the promotion of smoke-free homes.
  • More education as to the health effects of second hand smoke in the home as a means of reducing exposures. 
  • Greater focus on finding ways to encourage smokers to move towards smoke- free homes.

Welcoming the report Professor Luke Clancy, Director General, TobaccoFree Research Institute Ireland said,


“It is very reassuring to find that Indoor Pollution in Ireland is very low even where coal, peat or gas is used but the findings about Secondhand Smoke are very worrying. The finding that particle load is almost 10 times the allowable level for healthy breathing in homes where smoking occurs is disappointing, especially since we know of some 4000 harmful chemicals that exist in tobacco smoke and we also know that over 40% of Irish children are exposed to Secondhand Smoke in Ireland. Action is needed to encourage people not to smoke or at least not to subject others to the health risks associated with inhaling other people’s smoke.”

Notes to editors:
For the full report visit the EPA website.  

Further info on the estimated burden on public health
From the Health Impact Assessment (HIA) part of this study it is evident that, at a population level, the main issue to deal with in terms of combustion-related effects on household air quality is tobacco smoke. Our estimates of the health impact of ETS-derived fine particulate matter suggest that 20% of children in Ireland and 27% of children in Scotland are exposed on a regular basis within their home with over 400,000 non-smokers over 15 years of age are exposed to ETS at home in Ireland with a similar number exposed in Scotland.
Using a source-based approach to this exposure suggests that 85 cardiovascular deaths may be attributable to ETS exposure in Ireland with 110 deaths in Scotland. Small numbers of deaths due to lung cancer (< 10 per annum) are also likely to occur in both countries. Results of the HIA using the pollutant based approach with PM2.5 suggest that the mortality burden for never-smokers may be higher with the figure likely to lie somewhere between 244-340 cardiopulmonary deaths in Ireland and between 346 and 483 deaths in Scotland, depending on the proportion of time that the exposed population spend inside their homes.

The health burden of exposure to combustion-derived particulate at home is considerable and primarily driven by exposure to ETS. In terms of mortality it seems likely that the number of deaths from ETS exposure at home in each country is broadly comparable to those from road traffic accidents (212 in Ireland in 2010; 208 in Scotland in 2010). Morbidity from respiratory illness among children is also likely to be considerable with ETS exposure causing perhaps upwards of 2 million additional respiratory symptom days per year across both countries.


Futher information:

Dr Marie Coggins, Lecturer, School of Physics, and member of the Ryan Institute, NUI Galway via Ruth Hynes, Press and Information Executive, NUI Galway on +353 91 495695 or ruth.hynes@nuigalway.ie, or

Niamh Hatchell/Emily Williamson, EPA Media Relations Office on +353 53 9170770 (24 hours) or media@epa.ie