29 June 2020
Asthma , COPD, Allergy

The announcement for a European ‘Renovations Wave’ initiative has been part of the wider EU Green Deal framework of proposals to tackle climate change and environmental degradation.

Renovations to become key in a green and digital recovery

In the public consultation launched in May, the European Commission Directorate General for Energy (DG ENER) presented the overarching goal of the Renovation wave initiative to decarbonise buildings all across the European Union by boosting renovations, and incorporating clean, renewable and efficient energy.

Through this initiative, the Commission aims to structure EU financial incentives, so that the modernisation of the building stock becomes a full sector within the green, digital and fair recovery, foreseen after COVID-19.

EFA flags importance of indoor air quality in buildings

At EFA we warmly welcomed the prospect of energy-efficient buildings that will significantly reduce the current environmental footprint. However, in our response to the public consultation, we stress the need to assess and improve an aspect largely overlooked when addressing buildings: indoor air quality.

Europeans spend around 90% of their time indoors. While at home, at work or a public space, people may be exposed to pollutants in a number of ways: harmful chemicals, mouldy/damp buildings, households using solid fuels to cook and heat, or second-hand smoke.

The burden that poor indoor air puts on our health is considerably and disproportionately affecting people with allergies and chronic respiratory conditions, such as asthma and COPD.

Indoor air pollution impacts respiratory health of adults and children

Long-term exposure to polluted air indoors can result in the development of respiratory diseases, aggravate allergy and chronic respiratory diseases. About 10-15% of new cases of childhood asthma in Europe can be attributed to indoor exposure to dampness and mould.

Generally, children living with unhealthy indoor climates are significantly more likely to report eczema, allergy, asthma and poor respiratory health.

Effects on allergy patients are equally serious, with common allergens such as dust mites, pet dander and mould frequently found in poorly maintained and ventilated houses. More information on the data mentioned can be found in the EFA response to the DG ENER public consultation.

Pollutants at work: Better protection from occupational exposure needed

Exposure at work is another key determinant of allergy and respiratory health. About 17% of workers across the EU report being exposed to hazardous chemicals for at least a quarter of their working time, and 15% report breathing smoke, fumes or dust at work.

Although a heavily under-researched area of public health, this evidence demonstrates the need for better protection of workers via legislative means, but also through ambitious investment in renovating commercial buildings.

Trends to change, yet EU still lagging behind

Despite extensive work by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on indoor air quality, its recommendations have not been translated into legislative measures at the EU level. In reality, attention still lies on ambient air quality, leaving indoor aspects aside.

EU should look at environmental pollution as a whole

We strongly believe that the EU should look at environmental pollution as a whole. Considering the effects of poor air quality on health, the division among ambient air and indoor air bears the risk of leaving tools and capacities untapped.

EFA recommendations for healthy buildings

Focusing on improving air quality and supporting the further development of healthy buildings, EFA recommends the European Commission to:

  • adopt harmonised measurement and compulsory certification of indoor air quality performance for all new and renovated buildings
  • address concerns about the healthiness of closed spaces, especially in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. A first step can be a Eurobarometer survey on the perceptions of Europeans
  • establish financial instruments to incentivize healthy building renovations, following the example of best national practices where funding schemes have been put in place, tailored to respiratory health concerns
  • create synergies with other policies to ensure coherence. Relevant policies include the chemicals regulatory framework, the workplace legislation, and the Tobacco Products Directive
  • adopt a comprehensive EU strategic framework on air quality, incorporating both ambient and indoor air quality perspectives
  • engage in consultations with all relevant stakeholders, including patients with diseases linked to unhealthy buildings, and integrating real-world data in policy considerations.

More information about EFA’s work on Indoor Air Quality can be found here.