This week Allergy Cosmos spoke with Roger Martin as part of our series of interviews with air pollution experts across the UK. It is our hope that reading about these experts' opinions and the work they are doing will provide you with valuable insight into your own life with allergy, asthma and general air pollution.
Roger Martin BSc(Hons) MIAQM is a Director of Safe Air Quality Ltd., a leading independent UK surveyor of indoor air quality. Roger studied Chemical Engineering at Exeter University, has an honours degree in Applied Science and is an expert on air quality matters. Safe Air Quality (SAQ) helps companies, landlords, schools and public premises ensure their indoor air is safe for employees and customers - enabling them to comply with Health and Safety regulations. SAQ also operate a specialist domestic air quality testing company.
Allergy Cosmos: What is the health impact on humans that are regularly exposed to poor indoor air quality?
Roger: The World Health Organisation states that poor air quality is responsible for more than two million premature deaths a year. In the UK we spend on average around 90% of our lives indoors. The fact that many pollutants can be toxic at levels undetectable to humans means that we often have no idea that the air we are breathing can be responsible for a wide range of health complaints, from sore throats, fatigue, coughs and colds to asthma and even cancer.
Allergy Cosmos: How do you monitor indoor air quality for your clients?
Roger: SAQ’s fully trained and qualified engineers attend clients’ premises and use state of the art chemical sensing equipment to identify the presence of any gases or types of particulate matter that may be hazardous to health. We produce detailed reports following the surveys that include data analysis, a summary of any relevant health and safety legislation and recommendations as to how to rectify any identified problems. There are no 'normal' situations in this industry as each environment is unique, consequently presenting a unique solution or set of remediation measures.
Ventilation is often the commanding factor in commercial premises and in this respect we can guide clients to HVAC specifications, air room change rates and localised exhaust ventilation systems tailored to industry-specific regulations. In the domestic environment, we often encounter air quality issues arising directly from the government’s building airtightness regulations. These were designed so that we would spend less on energy and go some way to meeting our international carbon emissions obligations. An unfortunate side effect of this is that, from an indoor air quality perspective, we are now often living in giant “plastic bags”. Our homes are not able to breathe and chemicals such as Volatile Organic Compounds, carbon dioxide and harmful particulate matter can easily build up to unhealthy levels.
We are able to prepare bespoke air quality remediation plans using combinations of different technologies and recommend products and contractors from our independent testing laboratories and first-hand experience.
Allergy Cosmos: How far does the responsibility regarding indoor air quality at a place of work lie with an employer?
Roger: Health and safety legislation in the UK underlines a general principle that it is an employer’s duty to maintain an optimum environment for all employees or members of the public. Epidemiology is an ongoing study of how things like exposure to chemicals can affect our health. Studies in the fields of asbestos inhalation and tobacco smoking have produced well-known changes to our daily lives. COSHH regulations and recommended exposure limits have to be strictly observed for an ever-wider range of chemicals and are required in more and more commercial and industrial environments. The downsides of not properly observing this area of environmental health can be expensive and in some instances criminal. There has been a number of personal injury claims against employers over air quality issues. These have ranged from millions of pounds in compensation for cases of mesothelioma (a disease especially related to asbestos exposure) and associated corporate manslaughter charges, to £5000 compensation for a worker having blocked sinuses resulting from exposure to indoor air pollution in a stuffy office. The law is on the side of the companies and individuals that take indoor air quality seriously and get their air quality monitored regularly.
Allergy Cosmos: What are the most common air contamination issues you have encountered so far?
Out of the hundreds of surveys SAQ has conducted, over 50% have identified carbon dioxide and Volatile Organic Compounds over healthy levels, and approximately 10% of employers have been unknowingly operating in clearly hazardous environments – in several cases, we have been able to prevent imminent mortal danger.
Allergy Cosmos: But domestic indoor air is not regulated...
That is right. At present, there are few hard and fast guidelines for exposure limits that indicate a healthy indoor environment at home. Information can be taken from documentation including building regulations and guidelines from professional bodies such as CIBSE, but this is certainly an area that lacks attention. SAQ is able to make considerable use of data and research from the domestic surveys we have carried out to indicate the status of a home’s indoor environment, especially in relation to indoor particulate levels where data and research relating to UK homes is particularly sparse.
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