The hidden hazard of indoor pollutants

Tom Woolley, Chair of UK Clean Air Steering Committee
  • Flame retardants, which are serious, toxic, carcinogenic emissions in buildings. A study done by WWF way back in 2004 found samples from volunteers showed disturbingly high levels of flame retardants in the blood.
  • Phenol formaldehyde resins (PFA) is another one, as featured in the film Dark Waters (2019). PFA is perhaps best known for its use in non-stick pans. But Building a Better World gives an outline of the widespread use of PFA s in building materials.
  • Petrochemical insulation materials that are used in buildings are a serious source of indoor air pollutants. Worse still, there is an assumption that this is locked up behind concrete, but in reality, off-gassing is detected from insulation materials, emitting at very high levels when the materials are first installed and lingering in the building for many years.
  • Mould from darkness, which is becoming more and more of a problem in the UK. Partly due to fuel poverty, but also due to the hundreds of thousands of botched insulation schemes that have been installed and continue to be installed in houses.
  • Screeds, especially fast-drying, which are very high in hazardous chemicals. Often used in conjunction with toxic adhesives.
  • Purge the air from your home every morning. Less people in the UK are making this daily practice, due to concerns around maintaining heat for environmental and cost-effective reasons.
Photo: Hemp Industry Daily
  • Try specifying hempcrete. While Tom appreciates that the hemp and lime mix is a niche movement, the biobased material can be installed using basic tools and is free of hazardous chemicals. In environmental circles it’s growing in popularity.
  • Inform yourself. ICF, Insulating Concrete Forms, while being dubbed ‘good’ for the environment, remains on Tom’s banned list.
  • Watch out for marketing gimmicks. Tom reminds us that even something as simple as gypsum plaster board these days is full of contaminants because it’s made with recycled materials from power station waste, rather than natural gypsum. And that materials companies will go to great lengths to woo architects and designers into specifying their products
  • Try and reduce the use of plastics in buildings and you have a bigger chance of reducing emissions and toxins. For inspiration, read more about the Accord Housing Association scheme in Redditch.
  • Get behind the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) Healthy Homes act.

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