The UK government have set two clean air targets under the Environment Act 2021 into law; however, the targets were finally set some time after their own legally binding deadline. With targets not being set on time, there has been an increase of specifiers taking matters into their own hands and looking to source smart building systems to control and measure their own environment.

The government committed to set targets under the Environment Act to bring forward at least two new air quality targets for one of the most harmful pollutants, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in secondary legislation by 31st October 2022. The proposed PM2.5 air quality targets were: reach a maximum annual mean concentration target of 10µg/m3 by 2040 and reach a 35% reduction in population exposure by 2040. By the end of 2022, the government had still not set the two air quality targets into legislation, failing to meet their own deadline. The targets have now been legally set in legislation, but many see the government’s inability to meet their own deadlines regarding such a serious issue as worrying.

PM2.5 is the particulate matter that is in the air and can come from natural sources such as pollen or human sources such as dust from car tyres. Particles emitted directly from these sources are called primary particulate matter. Secondary particulate matter is formed in the atmosphere through chemical reactions with other air pollutants, for example gases such as sulphur dioxide.

Particulates are classified according to size, either as PM10 (particles of ≤10µm (micrometres) diameter) or PM2.5 (particles of ≤2.5µm diameter which are 200 times smaller than a grain of sand). These particles can get into the lungs where they are absorbed into the blood stream and transported around the body lodging themselves in major organs like the brain and heart. Particulate matter can cause an immediate impact to short term health over a single day where concentrations are elevated, and long-term impacts over a lifetime at lower levels. Vulnerable groups including children and the elderly and those with breathing difficulties like asthma are at most risk.

In July 2021, the government’s Department of Health and Social Care’s independent Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) concluded that new evidence indicates that PM2.5 pollution can have a harmful effect on people’s health at lower concentrations than had been studied previously and that on ‘health grounds’, the committee strongly supported a reduction of PM2.5 concentration, ideally to (or below) the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guideline value of 5 µg/m3 with an interim target of 10 µg/m3.

The benefits in reaching clear air targets do not only come in the form of better health, but also in the form of an increase in the economy. In September 2020 the Clean Air Fund found that the UK economy could benefit to the tune of £1.6 billion each year if it were to achieve the guidelines set by the WHO for ambient air quality. The study found that reductions in the concentrations of PM2.5 provided the largest impact on deaths prevented and working years gained because it is more prevalent across the UK than other pollutant.

The industry is already taking their own steps however in improving the air quality of buildings, internally and externally by specifying smart building controls. These can work to identify levels of particulate matter inside and if they reach a critical point then ventilation is used to take the polluted air away. The air outside is also high in particulate matter, and so smart building controls can filter it before it is put into a building’s environment. An increasing number of specifiers are sourcing Sontay’s range of sensors that monitor particulate matter. For example, Sontay’s GS-IAQ-S sensor measures PM2.5, PM10, TVOC, HCHO, CO2, humidity & temperature.

Stacey Lucas, Commercial and Marketing Director and Sontay said: “It’s a real worry that the government are not reaching their clean air targets, as particulate matter can really cause harm. We are proud to provide smart building controls that can help people take their environmental health into their own hands, but we hope the government can start also taking the targets seriously.”