I have just attended an expert webinar about indoor air pollution. I am sorry to say that both logs and candles are on the list of items that cause indoor air pollution. This time last year, Kent Bylines published an article to wise up readers about the new laws against log-burning. Now – sorry to be a spoiler of Christmas delights – but candles cause pollution too!
Death by breathing
The expert webinar, organised by Dyson, informed us that our indoor air is likely to be five times more polluted than outdoors. We each take about 25,000 breaths per day, which means we probably inhale indoors some 50m polluting particles. We are indoors 90% of our time. It is reckoned that air pollution costs the NHS £3.76m a year.
Some 8m people worldwide, and in the UK 36,000, people die each year from air pollution. Among them was Ella, the London schoolgirl, who died of asthma in 2013. In her memory, Ella’s Law has just passed through Parliament, which will formulate regulations for cleaner air.
How big are your particles?
Scientists have classified three sizes of particulates that are hazardous:
- PM 10 – which is the largest, mostly bacteria, mould spores and dust
- PM 2.5 – which is mostly caused by smoke, from coal, wood or traffic fumes
- PM 0.1 – also from smoke and also from formaldehyde.
Engineering solutions, such as better filters in air-conditioners, are not yet a workable option. People tend to forget to change the filters, it was stated. I question that as once you live with air-conditioners you get used to changing filters as something that goes with seasonal change: just as in the UK drivers remember to put anti-freeze in their cars, so in hot countries like South Africa you remember to get your air-conditioners serviced in the car and house before the hot season warms up.
Undesirable noise pollution
However, admittedly, I agree with the other argument against air-conditioners which are also air-purifiers: machines powerful enough to filter the fine particulates are noisy. Maybe Dyson were sponsoring the webinar because they plan to market some superior silent air-filtering machines!
One of the scientific experts was very keen on measurement. We need to collect more data about the various sources of indoor air pollution, and then share this data. Another expert said this means behaviour change, which is challenging. Examples of behaviour change are: stopping smoking; ceasing to burn candles; using an extractor fan above the cooker; changing your gas hob for an induction hob.
Need for education and tighter regulation
Whereas there has been plenty of public education about the harm of smoking, especially how it might harm even the non-smokers in your family, there is zero knowledge about the harm of candles. Yet increasingly the homeware shops, and also the pop-up Christmas stalls, are full of decorative candles to burn. Formaldehyde is an insidious chemical that gets put into a surprising variety of goods from chemical cleaners to paper. If it smells nice, it probably contains it!
What of the future? We can expect more UK regulation. The recent UK Environment bill was an opportunity to improve on the EU regulation targets, which were lenient because of the pressures of eastern European countries (with many wood and coal burning households). The UK now has a tighter target of 2040 to reduce PM 2.5. WHO updated guidelines, based on more recent health research, has halved the safe limits of polluting particulates in the air.
Is there an app for that?
We can also expect more monitoring apps. Just as there are now wrist-watches to measure our paces and heartbeats, so will there be apps to measure air pollution, both indoors and out? I don’t think we will be waving them sitting around a log-burning fire, or at a candle-lit dinner. By that time, we will have learned to make do with twinkling Christmas lights, powered, of course, by carbon-zero electricity.