We spend more than 90 per cent of our time indoors – a proportion that can only be higher now that most of the world is working and learning from home. As we shelter in place and shun the outdoors, we also expose ourselves to higher levels of household air pollution.
Academics have started making links between high levels of air pollution and coronavirus mortality rates. The research, although limited, looks at fatalities from the virus and historic levels of dangerous particulate matter known as PM 2.5 (an air pollutant that can penetrate the lungs, lead to reduced levels of lung capacity and cause skin and eye problems).
Improving standards of indoor air quality has always been a necessity, in fact, the ‘Sick Building Syndrome’ has been an issue for years. Buildings play a role in the spread of disease, which is evidenced throughout history with the SARS epidemic and measles to name a few.
A question of survival
However, the need for clean indoor air is becoming even more urgent as the world looks for ways to survive through the global pandemic caused by coronavirus. In the UAE, improving air quality has been on the government’s agenda for a long time.
The UAE National Vision 2021 aims to raise air quality in the country to 90 per cent by 2021. To meet this goal, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment is working with its partners in the public and private sector to improve the national standards for air pollution and compliance control.
The UAE regularly monitors outdoor air through the UAE Air Quality Index. The target is to achieve 90 per cent of green days by 2021, and we are well on our way as the rate was already 76 percent in 2016.
But indoor matters as well
While outdoor air quality is being looked at in detail, we need to look more closely at indoor air quality in the UAE. The Dubai Municipality standard for indoor air quality stipulates that the air needs to have less than 0.08 parts per million of formaldehyde, less than 300 micrograms of total volatile organic compound and less than 150 micrograms of suspended particulates in an eight-hour window of continuous monitoring pre-occupancy.
However, these standards need to be continuously enforced in a strict manner and include stipulations for PM 2.5 given its link to coronavirus related deaths.
It is important to take a step forward and upgrade the standard for indoor air quality in the UAE to a standard recommended by the Eurovent Association (EN16798-3 Sup 2) that calls for lower concentrations of PM in the air. This standard should be made mandatory rather than optional and can be achieved by installing the right ventilation and ductwork systems in our buildings.
Setting off ailments
Breathing air polluted with mould over a long period of time can lead to lowered immunity and susceptibility to viruses, respiratory issues, asthma, hypersensitivity, allergies and can even negatively affect children’s mental health.
And so, air ventilation systems play a critical role in the quality of indoor air. The right ventilation system can lower the collection of particulate matter by preventing fungal, mushroom and mould growth which can travel inside the building.
Long-term consequences are dire, which is why the public has a right to know more about the indoor air quality of the buildings they live and work in, especially in schools and hospitals.
For this reason, in addition to upgrading the standards for indoor air quality, we recommend establishing a national rating system whereby developers and landlords can certify that the quality of indoor air in their properties is compliant with the standard, thereby enabling future generations to live, work, study and play in buildings that keep them healthy.
The pandemic has forced the world to take a long, hard look at itself and examine all the issues that have led to the state we are in today. The years ahead will look very different from the past, and we will all have to adjust to a new reality of spending more time indoors than we did before.
Improving the quality of indoor air should be one of the first things we look at in order to create a healthier future for our communities.
- Abdulrahman Khansaheb is Managing Director, Khansaheb Industries.