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Scientists launch groundbreaking indoor air pollution study in London

Imperial’s Professor Frank Kelly at a participants home in White City for the WellHome project (Thomas Angus/Imperial College London)
Imperial’s Professor Frank Kelly at a participants home in White City for the WellHome project (Thomas Angus/Imperial College London)

Scientists have launched London’s first community-based indoor air pollution study.

The WellHome study, from researchers at Imperial College London, will use sensors installed in more than 100 families’ homes in White City to monitor air pollution levels throughout the year.

It will examine the effect of indoor pollution, including nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. Previous academic work has traditionally focused on the health impact of outdoor air pollution, such as that created by cars.

The small, oval-shaped air pollution sensors will measure indoor air quality and collect data on the levels of pollutants. The study involves two 28-day measurement periods in a warm season and a cold season.

Researchers will assess levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a harmful pollutant to human health which can be released by gas boilers and cookers. Evidence suggests it can cause shortness of breath and inflame the lining of the lungs, reducing resistance to infections like bronchitis.

The sensors will also measure the levels of particulate matter, which can settle in the airways and cause lung problems. It can be released by cooking and cleaning.

Small trays installed by scientists will also collect pollutants from the environment to capture the levels of chemical, biological and microplastic contaminants in the home.

Scientists will also focus on the correlation between poor outdoor and indoor air quality, with early data from the study suggesting that the two are closely linked.

Dr Diana Varaden, a lecturer at Imperial and one of the academic leads for the study, said WellHome’s results would be particularly significant for children aged between 5 and 10, who make up the largest age group for the study.

“We wanted to work directly with the local community. White City is an area with so many different housing structures and ethnic backgrounds. Everyone we spoke to wanted to know how polluted their homes were and how they could reduce it.”

Mounira Igheldane, a participant in the study, has lived in the area for seven years with her two children, aged seven and 10.

She told the Standard: “The main reason why I decided to take part in this project is my children. Our home is supposed to be the safest place that could be and I often wonder whether I am letting pollution in or out when I open my windows, as we live near the A40 where there is constant heavy traffic. My daughter suffers from severe eczema and environmental factors are well known to be common triggers. I hope this project will help shed light on the level of pollutants in our home.”

Imperial have already visited more than 56 homes as part of the project and expect to sample more than 100 homes by April 2024. Results from the study will be released by the end of next year.

The announcement of the study comes just a day after Mayor of London Sadiq Khan expanded the ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) to include the whole of the capital.

People who drive in the zone in a vehicle which does not meet minimum emissions standards are now required to pay a £12.50 daily fee or risk a £180 fine, reduced to £90 if paid within 14 days.

Mr Khan insisted that reducing air pollution in outer London would help to “transform people’s lives”.