Reducing the Risks: Why Fighting Dirty Air at Home Saves Lives

Air pollution is now recognised to be the greatest environmental threat to human health in the UK. A major health risk, it is more harmful than passive smoking and, according to Public Health England, is responsible for as many deaths as alcohol. Reducing exposure to air pollution is now a major government initiative, but the challenge is vast.

Evidence from the Royal College of Physicians and the World Health Organisation states that as many as 40,000 deaths each year are the result of air pollution and poor indoor air quality, with long-term exposure linked to asthma, heart and lung disease, cancer, dementia, diabetes and stroke.

Exposure to high concentrations of pollutants is harmful to our health, and the effects are cumulative, causing damage at every stage of our lives. Elderly people and those with existing health conditions like asthma and heart disease are particularly at risk from poor air quality. Episodes of high air pollution are linked to spikes in hospital admissions with respiratory problems and cardiac arrests, and to increased mortality rates. Children are also vulnerable, developing long-life health problems like asthma as a result of early exposure to air pollution. An investigation into the death of a child in London due to asthma has, for the first time, explicitly named poor air quality as the main cause. Sadly, this landmark case is likely to be the first of many. Action to protect the most vulnerable from harmful pollutants, at home, at work, at school and when travelling, is needed now.

Invisible But Deadly 

So what are the culprit gases and particles that are of most concern? The government has a statutory obligation to keep concentrations of some pollutants below a certain level. These are fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2 and NOX), non-methane Volatile Organic Compounds (NMVOCs), ammonia (NH3) and sulphur dioxide (SO2).

These pollutants come from many sources, including road traffic, industrial processes, agriculture and domestic fuel burning. Some of these pollutants react in the air, in sunlight and with each other to form other pollutants. Both NOX and VOCs react with other pollutants and in sunlight to form low level ozone. Ammonia converts to Particulate Matter after several days in the atmosphere, while sulphur dioxide combines with water to form acid rain.

Reactions between NOX, sulphur dioxide and ammonia form secondary PM. The process is fast, continuous and highly unstable. Add the influence of weather and you have a bigger problem. Day-to-day changes in weather have a great influence on air quality.  High winds can transport PM and ammonia a long way from their original source, increasing exposure in other areas. In urban areas, air pollution levels are often highest on warm, still days when dispersion is limited and sunlight causes chemical reactions.

Road transport is the largest single source of nitrogen dioxide emissions and also produces Particulate Matter, VOCs, SO2 and ozone. People living near busy roads are at greatest risk of exposure to air pollution both as they travel outside and in their homes. In fact, levels of N02 can be as high inside the home as they are at the roadside in high pollution areas.

In a recent report by the World Health Organisation which has made headline news in the British press, it was highlighted that 37 of 43 air quality zones across the UK have failed to meet EU limits on N02. These regions will have streets or larger areas that are labelled Air Quality Management Areas or AQMAs for failing to meet air quality objectives set by government. There are currently 725 in England, 45 in Wales, 43 in Scotland and 42 in Northern Ireland, so the problem is sizable and widespread.

A Disparity Between New and Existing Homes

With what is now known about the health effects of air pollution, focus has turned to mitigation techniques to keep pollutants out of the home. Technology for air filtration in new build developments is making great strides, with highly-effective carbon filter products that work as part of a ducted Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) system.

Nuaire launched its inline IAQ-BOX system which removes up to 99.5% of NO2 and up to 85% of PM2.5. Last year, we took this concept further with the design of the first carbon filter supply air valve which is highly effective yet easier and quicker to install and maintain.

Protection for occupants in newly built homes in high pollution areas already exists and in many cases, is becoming a planning condition. But when you consider there are 27 million existing homes in the UK, compared with 170,000 new homes built each year, the disparity is clear. The industry has been waiting for a solution for the millions of existing homes that are blighted by poor air quality.

As MVHR systems with carbon filtration require ducting through the property, they are highly intrusive to install in existing homes. Many existing properties are ventilated using intermittent extract fans, which are not effective at preventing the ingress of pollutants or their removal.

Finally, A Retrofit Solution

Nuaire has developed a new technology for existing homes. The Noxmaster is a whole house ventilation system that combines a trusted technology called Positive Input Ventilation or PIV with the same high-efficiency carbon filtration as used in new-build homes.

We are currently running tests with Noxmaster at Hafodyrynys Hill, Caerphilly - the most polluted street outside of London, as named by the World Health Organisation.  A controlled test house has been monitored for a number of months to show the difference between the pollution levels at the roadside, the pollution levels in a typical property, and the greatly reduced NOX levels with the Noxmaster installed. The results are exciting.

The Noxmaster combines a powerful carbon filter with a strategy invented by Nuaire over 45 years ago, Positive Input Ventilation (PIV).  This combination removes up to 99.5% of nitrogen dioxide and other harmful pollutants generated by traffic emissions and industrial processes. It delivers clean, filtered air into the home, improving the indoor air quality to within safe levels.

The secret weapon here is activated carbon. The carbon media held inside a cartridge is microporous and has a much larger surface area than its external dimensions suggest. A spoonful of activated carbon equates to the surface of a football field. Through a process known as ‘adsorption’, the pollutants are attracted and held on the surface of the carbon, trapping them before they enter the home.

An additional benefit of the Noxmaster is the reduction in humidity levels which prevents condensation dampness, and its ability to flush out pollutants generated inside the home from the use of household products, cooking with gas and burning fuel.

Reducing Exposure Saves Lives

With growing concern over poor indoor air quality and air pollution, some homeowners are taking steps to monitor and control the air in their homes using apps and consumer air purifiers. This can lead to a false sense of security as the removal of gases and particulates from the air is a complex process. It requires mechanical ventilation and carbon filtration to treat the air throughout the home, and control the pollutants generated inside the home.

£20 billion is the estimated cost of air pollution in the UK. Reducing exposure to pollutants whilst at home can save lives and improve the quality of life. We spend an average of 16 hours a day at home, and often the most vulnerable members of our society, babies and young children and the elderly, spend substantially more time in the home.

With the right technology, the control of pollutants in existing homes is now achievable. While we wait for a long-term solution to air pollution, products like the Noxmaster should help reduce diseases like asthma, heart disease and cancer, and increase life expectancy for thousands of people.

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MD Wayne Glover Sets Out Clear Vision for Nuaire's Future

With a clear, determined vision of strengthening Nuaire’s reputation for innovation and quality, recently appointed Managing Director Wayne Glover has already achieved a number of the goals he set out to put Nuaire on this path, including investing in engineering and building customer engagement.

Wayne joined Nuaire in 1993 as a Product Development Engineer and through the next 24 years progressed in management and director roles in engineering, sales and commerce, to the post of Managing Director in January 2018. 

This in-depth experience across different aspects of the company has provided him with a rounded picture of Nuaire and a clear idea of where he wants to position the company and how to get there. “Nuaire is known as an industry leader when it comes to product”, states Wayne. “We were the first company in the industry to achieve BSI Quality Management ISO 9001:2015 accreditation for example.  I want to really focus the company on innovation and quality to drive growth.”

To move towards this, Wayne revised the management and Director level structure at Nuaire. “This has provided a reinvigorated team who are directly engaging with customers to really understand what their needs are and provide innovative solutions”, states Wayne. “I have also been working on getting the different divisions at Nuaire more engaged with each other, bringing sales and commercial closer together, which is already reaping rewards.”

Of course, for any manufacturing business investing in engineering is essential. Nuaire, with Wayne at the helm, has recently invested heavily in a revised production line for its flagship XBC range of high efficiency commercial heat recovery ventilation units. A new flow-line manufacturing process has been introduced which has seen a 30% improvement in productivity. 

Wayne’s extensive experience isn’t just confined to Nuaire, having entered the ventilation industry as an apprentice at the age of 16. “Originally, I was thinking of doing something in electronics, but it was the early 1980s and jobs were in short supply in Wales. I must have done 50 interviews around the UK before I secured an apprenticeship at Engart Fans in Hirwaun [Mid Glamorgan]. I learnt a lot from my time there and travelled around the world.”

For someone who has spent so long in one industry, Wayne is able to offer good insight into the changes that have taken place over the years: “Whereas air movement was the main aspect of the ventilation industry there has been a change of focus which has come with greater awareness of the effects of air quality. On the product side there has been considerable improvements in product efficiency with far superior air flow rates.”

After more than three decades in the ventilation sector, you might wonder if Wayne had considered a change of scene: “I doubt many 16-year olds start out with a plan to work in a particular sector, but I was lucky to get a job in the ventilation industry”, he claims. “It’s been challenging and, despite being quite specialised, I’ve enjoyed many different roles. It led me to Nuaire which is unique because of its family friendly atmosphere, even though it’s part of a large plc. The company has grown from 80 to 500 people in my time. A real strength of the company is that we all talk, engage and work together. It’s the kind of place where people support and help each other out. That’s hard to find.” 

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Nuaire Harnesses Plant Power to Highlight Air Pollution

Filters

On a wet and misty Wednesday in June, an eager team from Nuaire downed-tools, PCs and gantt charts, and picked up shovels, forks and wheelbarrows for an activity not typically linked to  fan manufacturers.  We planted an Air Quality garden for the children of Cwrt Rawlin Primary School in Caerphilly.

As you would expect, Nuaire’s focus is on improving indoor air quality through all forms of mechanical ventilation. If the outside air is polluted, we offer systems like the new Noxmaster which filter gases and particulates using carbon and hepa filters. But employees also interested in environmental initiatives that can play a role in reducing outdoor air pollution, and urban planting is inspiring example with a myriad of benefits.

Numerous studies have established that certain species of trees, shrubs and plants can play an important role in mitigating air pollution. Citizen Sense, a research group funded by the European Research Council, recently created a tool-kit for planting air quality gardens. In the run-up to Clean Air Day, 21 June 2018, we came across the Phyto-Sensor toolkit and found the evidence of plant power highly compelling. Did you know trees and plants can capture particulate matter, absorb pollutant gases and repair polluted soil?

We were keen to put this knowledge to use, and partnered with our local primary school to plan and create an Air Quality garden as a learning resource for the children.

It has been heartening to learn how many staff at Nuaire are passionate about plants, and keen to get their fingers dirty for an environmental project. Our team of 13 gardening experts came from all parts of the business, and included our Business Ops Director, Commercial Sales Director, Engineers, Procurement Manager, Manufacturing Technicians and – of course – members of the Marketing Team (off-piste ideas are our domain).

Our air quality garden comprised of a range of trees and plants, all known to reduce air pollution or ‘bioindicate’ – to change appearance when pollutants are present. With neither the time nor prowess of Alun Titchmarsh’s ‘Ground Force Team’, we designed a planting scheme that could be finished in a working day, and that would be easily-accessible to the children.

For height and structure to our flowerbeds, we planted Silver Birch trees, which clean the air by trapping PM10 and PM2.5, and clean the soil by taking up heavy metals. The shrubs included Aster, Salvia, Heuchera, Lavender and Geraniums, all of which are effective at removing particulates or nitrogen dioxide, and, in some cases, both.

Since the garden was planted over a week ago, we have been delighted to witness how quickly the children and teachers have warmed to the garden, making it their own. Today, we made a visit to see how the plants and shrubs were fairing in the heat and spoke to the Head of School, Mrs Lloyd.

While we watched a group of 20 or so children moving happily around the plants and taking turns to sit on the new bench and spruced-up wooden seating area, Mrs Lloyd expressed how pleased the children and teachers are with the new green space. The project has been incredibly rewarding for all involved and positive way to highlight the issue of air pollution in affected areas, like Caerphilly.

While the grounds of Cwrt Rawlin Primary school are lined with trees and shrubs, the borough of Caerphilly contains two Air Quality Management Areas or AMQAs, which means air pollution levels are high enough to impact the health of people living in these areas.

An AQMA is defined by failures to meet air quality objectives set out by DEFRA. This could be one or two streets or a much bigger area.  Caerphilly town centre is an AQMA and is also home to Hafodyrynys Road, one of the most polluted streets outside of London.  

Air pollution affects children more than adults because it reduces lung growth and causes asthma.  It’s important to arm them with age-appropriate information about pollutants, their sources and what they can do to reduce their own exposure.  While we’ll continue to advise and educate about indoor air quality, we have been hugely inspired by the power of urban planting and the simplicity of planning an Air Quality garden. We hope to encourage other schools to take up the green-finger challenge in their own grounds. 

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Nuaire Marks Clean Air Day with Launch of First Retrofit Carbon Filter PIV System

Leading ventilation manufacturer Nuaire, based in Caerphilly, Wales, hopes to prevent thousands of deaths caused by air pollution with what they believe is a revolutionary technology for existing homes.  To coincide with national Clean Air Day on 21st June, the company is launching the Noxmaster whole-house ventilation system for the retrofit market. 

The Noxmaster combines a powerful carbon filter with a strategy invented by Nuaire over 45 years ago, Positive Input Ventilation (PIV).  This combination removes up to 99.5% of nitrogen dioxide and other harmful pollutants generated by traffic emissions and industrial processes. The Noxmaster delivers clean, filtered air into urban homes, improving the indoor air quality to within safe levels, as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). A recent WHO report cited 44 UK cities have air too toxic to breathe safely. 

The Royal College of Physicians estimates that up to 40,000 early deaths each year are the result of air pollution, with long-term exposure linked to lung and heart disease, asthma, stroke and cancer. Reducing exposure to air pollution is now a major government initiative, outlined most recently in the Environment Minister’s Clean Air Strategy.

Until now, using carbon filters to scrub airborne pollutants from indoor air has only been used with mechanical ventilation systems which are ducted from each room in a new build property. Retrofitting these systems into existing dwellings is both difficult and highly intrusive. However, Nuaire’s Noxmaster invention now means that any urban home with a loft can have a carbon filter ventilation system installed.

Nuaire Business Ops Director, Andy Mudie, explains the thinking behind this revolutionary product: “With rising air pollution levels, installing carbon filters in urban homes has become a planning condition in many parts of the country. But with an estimated 27 million existing homes in the UK, compared with 170,000 new homes built each year, the disparity is clear. The industry has been waiting for a solution for the millions of existing homes that are blighted by poor air quality, and this exciting new development addresses the issue for the wider population.

“Noxmaster is the first time a retrofitable whole-house ventilation system has addressed air quality with carbon filtration. It’s about giving homeowners and tenants living near busy roads the peace of mind that, by installing a system in their loftspace, their long-term health will be safeguarded.”

Noxmaster combines the PIV strategy with a powerful carbon filter that removes up to 99.5 of nitrogen dioxide and up to 75% of particulate matter (PM2.5). Exposure to NOX and PM2.5 reduces life expectancy through a range of diseases including lung cancer, dementia and diabetes.

Nuaire is currently running tests with Noxmaster at Hafodyrynys, Caerphilly - the most polluted street in Wales.  A controlled test house has been monitored for a number of months to show the difference between the pollution levels at the roadside, the pollution levels in a typical property, and the greatly reduced NOX levels with the Noxmaster installed. Test results are likely to be available in early August.

With growing concerns over air pollution levels, an increasing number of homeowners are taking steps to monitor and control the quality of their indoor air using consumer products such as air purifiers. Nuaire Product Development Manager, Richard Jenkins, believes this may lead to a false sense of security: “Removing gases and particulates from the indoor air is complex and requires a process that filters the air throughout the property.

Air purifiers can only treat the air in one room, and their effectiveness depends on the room’s exact size, its use and proximity to the roadside. In short, you would need a purifier in every room in the home and that would still be far less effective than providing a single source of filtered air through a mechanical system, as the Noxmaster does.”

Adding carbon filtration to PIV has another major benefit in that it keeps condensation levels low. Mr Jenkins explained: “The PIV process used by Noxmaster treats the whole property, ensuring the air is constantly diluted and replaced with fresh, filtered air. Humidity is a major indoor pollutant, which leads to condensation dampness and mould growth. It keeps moisture levels low, whilst also forcing out pollutants generated by household cleaning and beauty products, cooking with fuel and using wood-burning stoves.”

With over 400 staff based in Caerphilly, Nuaire is a large employer for South Wales and an integral part of the community.  To raise awareness of the importance of air quality, Nuaire is holding an Air Quality Interactive Workshop with a local primary school, Cwrt Rawlin, on national Clean Air Day. The Workshop, which runs from 10am – 12pm, features engaging and fun presentations and scientific experiments looking at indoor air quality, how to reduce air pollutants in the home including positive input ventilation, and a Cyclone Ball game with teams challenged to remove the most ‘NOX particle’ balls.  A factory tour will be included, showing Nuaire’s world class manufacturing facilities. 

As part of the event a team of eight Nuaire employees has also plant an Air Quality Garden at Cwrt Rawlin School to encourage school children to think about ways to reduce air pollution. 

Find out more about Noxmaster here. 

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