New study explores how air pollution in indoor spaces affects human health

A West London-based project will investigate how pollutants in indoor spaces impact children with asthma.

Researchers have received £9 million funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to better understand how the composition, concentration and exposures of air pollutants affect children with asthma and people living in urban homes.

The four-year projects were funded by UKRI through the SPF Clean Air Programme. Each project will bring together specialists in environmental, social and medical, engineering, economics sciences, and health communities. Three new research projects will investigate how air pollutants in indoor spaces such as homes, schools and workplaces can adversely affect the health of the people inhabiting in them.

In the UK, poor air quality is a severe environmental risk to public health, with air pollution responsible for 40,000 early deaths. It is estimated to cost £20 billion a year to health services and businesses.

West London Healthy Home and Environment Study (WellHome)

Children growing up in the UK today represent an ‘indoor child generation’, with most of their activities taking place primarily in homes and schools, with chemically diverse environments. Despite its importance in human exposure terms, links between indoor air quality and public health is an under-researched area, with greater emphasis placed on outdoor air quality.

Working in partnership with local community, the WellHome consortia will focus on the quality of air inside and outside over 100 homes with an asthmatic child selected from across the social spectrum. Their intensive monitoring approach, linking toxicological assessments of chemical and biological pollutants with individual activity and health data, aims to identify triggers for worsening of their condition and thus improve quality of life.

Imperial’s Professor Frank Kelly, Battcock Chair in Community Health and Policy, within the School of Public Health is leading the study.

One multi-disciplinary team will follow 100 households in West London with at least one child with asthma and monitor chemical and biological pollutants within their home. With many children now spending most of their time indoors, whether at home or school, this study will significantly improve understanding of the link between air quality and asthma symptoms.

“By working closely with existing community groups and schools, together our joint efforts will have a much better chance of success of improving the wellbeing of children, especially those with asthma. Professor Frank Kelly Battcock Chair in Community Health and Policy

Professor Kelly said: “This is an ambitious and complex programme of work which will substantially improve understanding of indoor pollution exposure and its effect on children living in urban environments.

The team consists of researchers from Imperial, Queen Mary University of London, Cardiff University and project partners from GLA, NGOs, community groups, and industry.

Indoor air pollutants and impacts of pollution on neurological disease

The other two projects will be based on air pollutant studies. Professor Nicola Carslaw from University of York will be leading on ‘Understanding the sources, transformations and fates of indoor air pollutants.’ The research team will follow communities in Bradford to examine how and why air pollution builds in urban homes. A team made up of scientists from four universities will work with Bradford Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Born In Bradford – a research programme following communities in the city to unravel the reasons for ill-health.

The third project is the ‘Air Pollution Hazard Identification Platform’ led by Professor Gordon McFiggans at the University of Manchester. A platform that enables scientists to rank the toxicity of common air pollutants will be developed, focusing on links between air quality and neurological disease. Using this platform, the team will study the impacts of pollution on neurological disease, providing a hazard ranking of pollutant sources. This can inform policy decisions about the sorts of pollution to avoid to reduce ill health. They hope that the platform will be used in future to study other diseases.

The research team consists of those from Imperial, University of Birmingham, University of Dundee, University of Edinburgh and the University of York.

Professor Sir Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair of the Natural Environment Research Councils, part of UKRI, said:

“Poor air quality affects millions of people in the UK, and this research will help us better understand how indoor spaces interact with pollutants, causing poor health.

Air pollution is a key funding priority, and these studies are part of a multi-million-pound investment by UKRI in monitoring, reducing and mitigating the impact of pollutants on the planet and our health.”

This research is jointly delivered by UKRI research councils and other partners including Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Medical Research Council (MRC), Innovate UK, Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), Department for Transport (DfT), Scottish Government, Welsh Government, and The Met Office.

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