Wolfson Atmospheric
Chemistry Laboratories

Innovation Way
University of York
Heslington
York, YO10 5DD

General Enquiries

Jenny Hudson-Bell
wacl@york.ac.uk
01904 322609

In WACL we are developing new methods and technologies to detect pollutants in indoor environments and to estimate the risks from exposure.

The air we breathe is an essential component of the human life cycle.

Over the last 40 years, there has been much study of the impact of human activities on the quality of outside air. It is now well known that dangerous pollutants, such as particles and ozone, lead to respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease and increased mortality.

However, in the UK most individuals spend 80-90% of their time indoors therefore indoor air quality is arguably more important to regulate than outdoor air. Often the people most at risk from the adverse effects of low quality indoor air are the very young, the elderly and those with existing health conditions as they spend the majority of their time indoors.

 

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Often the levels of pollutants can be significantly increased indoors. Species from combustion (e.g. cooking, candles, solid fuel burning), biological substances (e.g. mould, pesticides) and VOCs from a variety of sources such as household cleaning products, may lead to harmful levels
of indoor air pollution.

Exposure can occur through inhalation, ingestion of contaminated house dust and from dermal exposure through contact with indoor surfaces.

The exposure route is an important feature of estimating the potential health risks.

For instance, toddlers are most exposed to the ingestion of house dust than adults because they spend more time crawling around on the floor, often putting their hands and other objects into their mouths and due to their less developed immune systems. Therefore, measurements need to cover a wide range of chemical functionalities and sample types.

As a society we are warned when pollution levels outside are high and educated on steps to reduce our personal exposure. However, are we ignoring a much larger risk in our own homes?

There are many studies of specific pollutants in indoor environments such as the home or workplaces.

However the lack of understanding of the complexity of indoor air quality (IAQ) are in part leading to an underestimation of the detrimental impacts to human health, both to the public and the regulatory authorities.

Only 3% of local authorities in the UK have an IAQ policy.