Monday

12th Nov 2018

Focus

Household air pollution, the forgotten health hazard

  • "The WHO estimates that 4.3 million people a year die from exposure to household air pollution globally, of which almost 120,000 are in the WHO European region," Leen Meulenbergs, the WHO's representative to the EU, told EUobserver (Photo: iStock)

Health concerns surrounding outdoor air pollution are well-documented, and the EU has grappled with the seriousness of how to tackle the issue for some time.

But one area, where there has been little action, is on the health concerns surrounding indoor air quality.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Less attention has been given to this issue despite the wide range of indoor pollutants that can affect health such as building materials, furniture or even by activities such as cooking or the use of cleaning products.

In a new report, the World Health Organization (WHO) has shed some light on the issue.

The report reveals that 23 percent or 12.6 million of all global deaths each year are linked to the environment, with nearly two-thirds linked to noncommunicable diseases (NCD). These include ischaemic heart disease (IHD), stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer.

4.3 million deaths per year

"The WHO estimates that 4.3 million people a year die from exposure to household air pollution globally, of which almost 120,000 are in the WHO European region," Leen Meulenbergs, the WHO's representative to the EU, told EUobserver.

"While deaths from ambient air pollution occur in all European countries, regardless of their income level, those from household air pollution are over five times greater in low- and middle-income countries than in wealthier ones," Meulenbergs added.

Worldwide, 17 percent of the cardiovascular disease burden can be attributed to household air pollution from cooking with polluted fuels, with almost a third (30 percent) of COPD linked to polluted air at home.

While smoking was described as the most important risk factor for developing lung cancer, almost a fifth (17 percent) of deaths were attributed to household air pollution.

Another major element is the more common ailment of asthma, which is reportedly exacerbated by exposure to dampness, mould, house dust mites and other allergens in homes.

The WHO said that work-related asthma is seen as a frequent occupational disease and could be caused by many factors - including cleaning agents, enzymes, flour, wood dust, latex and metals.

Household air pollution was reported as being responsible for three percent or 56,000 of IHD deaths each year, three percent or 43,000 stroke deaths, two percent or 10,000 lung cancer deaths, and three percent or 8,000 COPD deaths a year.

A wide range of interventions, according to the WHO, would be needed to reduce indoor air pollution and associated health effects. These actions could address the sources of pollution, the living environment, or changes in behaviour.

Concrete action

In the EU, indoor air quality was recently brought into the spotlight with the draft proposal of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD).

The proposal put forward to the European Parliament committee on industry, research and energy (ITRE) on 11 October and passed with an overwhelming majority, suggested a range of changes not only to improve the efficiency of buildings, but also included indoor air quality measures.

The new EU building regulations could see indoor air quality become a mandatory criteria for the first time.

However, health campaigners like the European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients' Associations (EFA) argue there is more to be done, as the health implications can be serious. At the European level, there is no real measure to safeguard and improve the quality of indoor air and there is a lack of awareness on the issue, said EFA.

EFA is calling for more action and said it expects the WHO Indoor Air Quality guidelines, which are not legally binding, to be taken into account by policy-makers.

"We think an Indoor Air Quality certificate for new and renovated buildings, can be a good monitoring and information system for citizens. We cannot see what air carries and we cannot choose what not to breathe," Roberta Savli, director of strategy and policy at EFA, told EUobserver.

"There is a policy gap on indoor air quality and that lack of binding rules is leaving Europeans unprotected against dirty air indoors. The European Commission set a working group on indoor air quality in 2006, but nothing has been done since it stopped working in 2012," Savli added.

Overcoming air quality

EFA said it is also concerned, as the seventh Environmental Action Programme, approved in 2013, requires the EU to develop a strategy on indoor air quality. As yet, no proposals have been put forward.

But EFA is not the only organisation raising concern about air quality in the latest EPBD proposal.

Russell Patten, secretary general of the European Ventilation Industry Association (EVIA), raised some other concerns.

"We are pleased to see that the European Parliament recognises the crucial importance of indoor air quality but caution that the upcoming discussions with the Council [of the EU] could result in a lowering of ambitions," Patten warned, referring to the Council, where representatives of the member states meet.

Even the European Builders Confederation has voiced concern that the ITRE committee failed to include regular maintenance of heating and ventilation systems, citing that this was needed to ensure "health, well-being and safety."

Member states

In spite of the slow progress at EU level, some member states have recognised the risk of indoor air pollution and have started their own initiatives to tackle the problem.

In 2015, Finland adopted a decree setting limits for microbial damage, adequate ventilation and concentration of chemicals. According to an estimate by the country's environment ministry, between 600,000 and 800,000 people could be affected by indoor moisture and mould damage alone.

France also has an action plan, and the Italian ministry of health has developed guidelines for indoor air quality in schools.

Indoor air quality on EU building agenda for first time

MEPs will debate amendments to new EU building regulations next week, intended to improve energy efficiency but which could also see indoor air quality become a mandatory criteria for the first time.

Air pollution, Europe's largest environmental health hazard

While the health of hundreds of thousands of Europeans' are affected each year by air quality issues, the EU and its member states struggle to implement and comply with legislation that aims to reduce air pollution.

The worrying state of Europe's lungs

One of the most frequent chronic diseases in Europe is estimated to take the life of over 250 people worldwide every hour. Tobacco is the direct cause for most cases.

News in Brief

  1. UK seeks swift use of new EU chemical weapons blacklist
  2. Barnier briefs EU ministers: intense negotiations continue
  3. Romanian minister preparing EU presidency steps down
  4. Finland says Russia possibly behind GPS jamming
  5. German AfD leader under fire for Swiss campaign funding
  6. Seehofer announces he will step down as CSU party leader
  7. EU condemns elections in Russia-occupied eastern Ukraine
  8. German Greens pick two top candidates for EU election

Supported by

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Romanian leaders trade jibes over upcoming EU presidency
  2. EU warns Romania not to abuse GDPR against press
  3. EU 'Magnitsky Act' must bear its proper name
  4. Fear of nationalist surge marks European memorials
  5. Liberals ally with Macron for election, but no candidate yet
  6. Revealed: Link between MEPs CO2 votes and domestic car jobs
  7. All Quiet on the Eastern Front?
  8. Merkel and Brexit in spotlight This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us