Last week's Economist was a thought provoking read, and has brought to attention some "fresh thinking about fresh air." As the drive for clean water has effected the reduction of infectious diseases and the improvement of world health overall, clean indoor air must now assume centre stage in the public health agenda. Never more so than now.
According to the WHO, 93% of the world's children under the age of 15 (1.8 billion children), are exposed to such polluted air, both outside and inside, that it puts their health and development at serious risk. Childhood exposure to air pollution impacts neurodevelopment and cognitive ability, can trigger asthma (1 in 11 children in the UK have asthma according to Asthma UK), and can cause childhood cancer. Children exposed to high levels of air pollution may also be at greater risk for chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease later in life.
Why are we focusing on children? According to the WHO,
Children breathe more rapidly than adults do, and so absorb more pollutants.
Children are closer to the ground, where some pollutants reach peak concentrations – at a time when their brains and bodies are still developing.
The Lancet Covid-19 commission has classed schools as "chronically under-ventilated." Seriously? Yes! A study of 100 American classrooms found 87 with worryingly low ventilation rates. 66% of classrooms in Sweden, France, Italy, Norway and Sweden fell short of healthy standards. We in the UK share similar repurposing of old buildings to many of our European neighbours. Advanced ventilation systems are sadly not present in UK or European schools.
The latest school of thought on Covid-19 transmission is that it "Spreads less by close contact and infected surfaces and more by hitching a ride on aerosol particles from people's lungs that can linger in the air of an ill-ventilated room." Aerosols (micro droplets) in the air are created by breathing, speaking, whispering, singing, and the list goes on. Traditional physical distancing measures and standard face masks are less effective in preventing the spread of infection through aerosols, but ventilation can help reduce this risk.
The pandemic has attracted new attention to an unseen, yet not unfelt problem. Given that we are spending more and more of our time (up to 90% indoors), we really need to focus on what effect polluted indoor air is having on our society, and most importantly, on our children, who rely on us to look after their wellbeing.