Danger indoors

Researchers at the University of Essex will launch a software package this week designed to predict the exposure to pollution suffered by people in indoor urban environments.



The package, called the Urban Exposure Module, is a management decision software tool aimed at helping administrators quantify and deal with the health risks associated with pollution in urban environments. Its use could help in the understanding and possibly prevention of major health problems that are caused by airborne pollutants.



The Urban Exposure Module provides local, regional and national governments with a system to translate measured outdoor pollution concentrations or emissions into real health risks for people in domestic environments and will enable more effective air pollution control strategies to be developed and administered.



It is the culmination of a collaborative three year European Union funded project which has seen the Essex team work with partners across Europe. The new software has already been unveiled in Oslo and Prague and will be launched in the UK at a London workshop on Wednesday 29 June.



Professor Ian Colbeck, leader of the Essex team based in the University”s Department of Biological Sciences, explained: “Current regulation and legislation relating to air quality is based on measurements made outdoors.



“However, most people spend 80 per cent of their time indoors and for some groups, such as the elderly and mothers with pre-school age children, this statistic is even higher. Therefore, it is really rather important that we understand the risks when indoors.



“In order to develop the system, we made extensive simultaneous measurements of the indoor and outdoor concentrations of a range of pollutants in a variety of buildings in five major European cities. We were then able to establish a set of models of likely indoor concentrations based upon the outdoor readings.



“From our estimated indoor concentrations we could then estimate the amount that a person would inhale. The software can then be used to forecast exposure levels or can be used as a diagnostic tool to investigate pollution incidents.”



The project also took into account water-borne pollutants and how, and in what doses, they might enter the body.


The team”s results were used to develop the new software which is designed to work best when integrated into an Air Quality Management System that uses geographical information to track and monitor outdoor air quality.