Read some of the frequently asked questions and answers relating to indoor air quality.
Gas appliances should be serviced annually by a Gas Safe registered engineer. Any signs of defects, soot or other staining, fluctuating yellow pilot lights (or excessively noisy boilers) should be inspected by a (Gas Safe) engineer.
The flues to open hearths and solid fuel burners should be swept once a year and checked for damage allowing leakage of fumes.
Never use charcoal indoors. Chimney sweeps can be contacted at National Association of Chimney Sweeps (NACS)
Paraffin heaters should be checked constantly for blue not yellow flame. But these are not recommended because they are a potential fire hazard and can cause excessive condensation and damp problems.
Any room with a gas or fuel burning appliance must be properly ventilated. It is vital when draught proofing not to block ventilators or airbricks.
For extra security carbon monoxide detector alarms can be fitted, and as a minimum should conform to BSEN 50291 (look for the Kitemark). Generally the alarm should be fitted in a high position in the room. Proper fitting instructions should come with the device, but otherwise advice can be obtained from the HSE or local fire brigade.
If you have been feeling drowsy or dizzy, or often suffer from headaches and feelings of nausea these can be signs that you are being exposed to carbon monoxide. But these symptoms can indicate other health problems so it is important to see your GP.
The health risk with charcoal burning in confined spaces like a kitchen is that charcoal generates large amounts of carbon monoxide. Outdoors this is not usually a problem because the fumes disperse easily and there is plenty of oxygen to convert carbon monoxide (CO) to carbon dioxide which is virtually harmless in the open air. Indoors the burning charcoal readily consumes the available oxygen and carbon monoxide builds up.
Even mechanical extract ventilation may not be enough to remove the carbon monoxide fumes. But the risk of CO poisoning increases rapidly when the extract ventilation is turned off – say when cooking has finished, or at the end of the evening. The burning embers may appear harmless but they still give off CO. There have been several cases when people in rooms above charcoal grills have died from CO poisoning, or become seriously ill.
Please consider using the ordinary cooker grill for indoor use and keep the barbecues for outdoors.
Some people are particularly sensitive to these volatile substances (4-PCH, styrene and butadiene among others) and are advised to leave as many windows open as possible without compromising security. Ideally vacating the flat for 48 to 72 hours should give sufficient relief from the initial concentration of gases. The smell does not usually persist longer than about three weeks.
In fact almost all redevelopment in central London includes a basement level, which inevitably means a deep excavation with the original soils and other materials removed and transported out of the borough, to special disposal sites if it is found to be contaminated.
It is much more likely that the combined “off-gassing” or fumes from the new materials and fabrics used in fitting out and fully furnishing your flat have affected you in a way that provokes similar symptoms to a bout of ‘flu'. Ideally vacating the flat for 48 to 72 hours should give sufficient relief from the initial concentration of gases. Otherwise we would advise you to leave as many windows open as possible without compromising security.
Although you may be very conscious of the smell it should subside within three to four weeks. If you are particularly sensitive to volatile substances indoors you may want to avoid the use of aerosols for cleaning or air fresheners, and if you burn scented candles for fragrance you may decide to do without these as well. In fact paraffin wax candles can give off more particulate pollution than cigarette smoking.
As you have found, redecorating by itself doesn’t help much, although paints with biocidal additives may slow down any re-growth. Adequate heating and ventilation are needed to prevent condensation forming in corners and stagnant parts of the room, and on interior surfaces of poorly insulated external walls. You should try and avoid leaving damp clothing and towels in the room. There may also be other causes of damp such as a slow leak from a radiator, or damp penetrating from an external defect like leaking guttering, or down pipes. Technical advice on eliminating the factors that cause mould growth is available from our Housing Department on 020 7361 3002.
If you have a car, making that a smoke-free “zone” is a big step towards reducing the risks your kids face from passive smoking.
Quitting smoking means you probably don’t need any more advice about the major health benefits of being smoke free, and if your partner has thought about quitting you may be able to point her/him towards a source of professional advice. The NHS Kensington and Chelsea Stop can be contacted on: 0800 085 9147.
Sometimes air conditioning is blamed for complaints even though the actual cause lies elsewhere, typically in poor office cleaning routines. Un-cleaned carpeting harbours not only grime but also dirt, bacteria from food debris, dust mites, mould spores and other biological contaminants from soiling. Apart from daily vacuum cleaning, ideally carpeting should be steam cleaned once a year to keep these potentially harmful agents at a low level.
Health and safety in most offices is enforced by the local authority, our inspectors can be contacted for advice on 020 7361 3002. Depending on the initial assessment an inspection may be arranged to investigate the problem. Your organisation’s health and safety representative, or union official, may also be able to help. Further information can be obtained from the Health and Safety Executive.
However there are quite a few things you can do to lower internal levels of the two pollutants as well as volatile organic compounds which also pose a health risk. The following seven steps are useful to know about, if you haven’t taken them already:
- If possible ventilate your home on the side away from the road.
- When your children are ready for school, walk them there rather than using the car – car interiors concentrate street pollution.
- If you use gas for cooking, install mechanical ventilation e.g. an extractor hood over your kitchen cooker, and make sure it’s switched on whenever the burners are lit. Otherwise open the kitchen window because gas cooking generates significant levels of NO2.
- If you are a smoker, restrict smoking to one room not used by the children, or smoke outside.
- Wherever possible avoid aerosol sprays for cosmetics, cleaning materials, paints and varnishes, and keep containers of vapour forming solids or liquids sealed.
- Substitute “ecological” products when available.
- Avoid using air fresheners.
The manufacturers strongly recommend avoiding more than the absolute minimum exposure and prolonged exposure to solvent fumes is likely to be a health risk especially some solvents like Trichloroethylene TCE and Perchloroethylene PERC. TCE is used in paints, glues, carpet cleaners and degreasers and PERC is also found in a number of household products. Both are potential carcinogens and have now been linked to Parkinson’s disease.
Wherever possible water based products should be used in preference to other solvents, for example varnishes and paints can be obtained with a water base.
The process of elimination, which your GP has initiated, may lead on to looking at aerosol products you use and whether anyone in the family is a smoker. Unfortunately the causes of asthma are not fully understood, but precautionary measures may reduce the symptoms.
The Council has produced a leaflet which highlights some of the factors that can lead to poor air quality in the home, as well as advice on ways to improve it. If you would like a printed copy of the leaflet, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Indoor Air Quality leaflet [PDF file] (file size 818Kb)