Ensuring Sustainable Construction Through Air Quality & The Built Environment

The Built Environment’s Air Pollution Generation

Construction works, renovation sites and built environments all involve activities that generate air pollution, like demolition, burning materials, operation of diesel vehicles and machinery which add to increased particulate and gas concentrations in the air, that we know when inhaled can contribute to adverse health impacts like worsened lung function and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), construction is considered one of the primary sources of dust particles, also referred to as particulate matter such as PM2.5 and PM10. The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) claims the built environment contributes to around 40% of the UK’s total carbon emissions, coming from energy used in buildings and throughout infrastructure.

The research about the built environment and its contribution to air pollution outlines just how poor air quality arises. To fully identify solutions to these issues, it is important to consider how and who is being impacted by harmful gases and particulates.

Pollutants from Built Environments Go Further than Just Building Sites

It’s common to find construction sites throughout many areas, like city centres introducing car parks, shopping centres, new housing estates in suburban areas or construction sites located near homes, schools or offices. This, in combination with factors like wind and weather, can have an impact on an individual’s pollution exposure as wind moves dust particles around the atmosphere and hot weather can exacerbate concentrations. This means that those passing by construction sites may briefly be exposed to the impacted air quality, but people regularly attending school or work nearby can be significantly affected, potentially impacting those with respiratory issues, like asthma, or children with developing lungs.

It’s also important to consider construction workers and their exposure to harmful gases and pollutants at such sites. Workers are often in close proximity to pollution sources, like diesel vehicles and demolition sites, both of which emit high levels of dust particulates and gases, which when inhaled can contribute to adverse health impacts previously mentioned. The British Safety Council launched a report which found that London’s outdoor workers are regularly exposed to air pollution levels above WHO guidelines. Such effects outline the need for monitoring pollution levels throughout built environments and guaranteeing sustainable construction.

As air pollution has the ability to travel further than just built environments, like into construction workers, residents and children’s airways; these are just some of the many reasons why Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations must be carried out, to assess, model or monitor emissions before, during and post development projects, and to ensure applied mitigations are effective in controlling dust emissions.

building site under construction

Identifying Air Quality Levels at Construction Sites Using Zephyr® Sensors

With great thanks to modern tech developments, the ability to identify air quality levels throughout built environments has become a simple task. For example, Zephyr® air quality sensors take real-time measurements at a localised level for pollutants including nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3), PM1, PM2.5 and PM10 and also have the capability to plug-in third-party devices to monitor additional construction related parameters such as weather, noise, vibration, and dust. This data is sent to the MyAir® web app where measurements are viewed, analysed, and downloaded in a simple and intuitive interface making it easy for anyone to interpret and action.