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Researchers create more accurate measurement of indoor air pollutants

18 March 2022

Funded by the Met Office, researchers are creating tools that can enable greater understanding of indoor air quality.

The new project “Indoor Air Quality Emissions & Modelling System (IAQ-EMS)”, is funded by the Met Office and UK Research and Innovation through the Strategic Priorities Fund. It aims to increase the understanding of indoor air pollutants and enable people planning or assessing an indoor space to build an accurate picture of the likely sources, levels and risks of pollutants.

While significant progress has been made in measuring outdoor air quality, the indoor environment poses additional challenges with multiple pollution sources, different sized spaces, and varying levels of ventilation.

In its first phase, researchers will take high-performance mobile air quality measuring instruments to different sites in the region and create a detailed inventory of indoor pollutants. These include cleaning products, pollution from cooking and heating, and volatile organic compounds given off by carpets or furniture.

Once this is completed, the team will start to describe the distribution of pollutants, model how they break down in the environment and get dispersed throughout an indoor space.

“We want to know, for example, how a pollutant moves from the kitchen into a different space, such as a bedroom. Because pollution produced during cooking is warm, it rises, so it could be that upstairs spaces are more affected by pollution than we realise. Our toolkit will help model and predict these scenarios to ultimately help people plan and manage their spaces to minimise risks,” said lead researcher, Dr Christian Pfrang.

A range of environments will be modelled, from residential spaces to offices, schools, care homes and transport spaces.

All the data collected will be used to produce a series of tools that will:

• Catalogue different indoor pollutants and model likely concentrations in different indoor environments
• Explain the detailed processes involved in chemical degradation and transport
• Enable models of different indoor environments to be built showing the likely levels and distribution of pollutants and effects of interventions (opening windows, for example)

Sarah Gooding, Met Office SPF Senior Project Manager for Clean Air, said: “The Met Office is delighted to award a Clean Air Programme Grant to Birmingham University, who will lead a consortium of researchers to facilitate investigation into Indoor Air emissions and the correlation with Outdoor Air quality. This is of particular importance as we try to further understand our exposure to harmful pollutants in both the indoor and outdoor environments.

“This work will further our knowledge of the effects of Indoor Air emissions and possible strategies to mitigate against their harmful effects. It will also enable people to undertake changes to promote a cleaner living environment and better air quality, helping to improve health.”

The three-year project also includes collaborators from the University of Reading, Cranfield University and the University of California.

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