Our right to breathe clean air

In an ever increasingly urbanised world, people need clean air.

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It might seem obvious. And, as we spend 90 percent of our time indoors, the question of clean air is even more important whether that be in our homes, offices, schools, health centres and so on. As new parts of the world get richer, more and more people are moving into cities. Indeed, European Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potočnik said recently in an EU speech that by 2030 some three billion people – the new middle classes – will have moved into cities; what he calls the “engines of economic growth, job creation and innovation”.

While the economic growth is good news there are environmental and health issues to consider, Potočnik adds. One of these is the growing problem of indoor and outdoor air pollution. While the EU had already introduced regulations to reduce the problem, Potočnik’s Commission still made 2013 the Year of Air, so that the EU could examine where the legislation could be tightened to improve things further. In new markets such as China, air pollution has reached alarmingly high rates.

While the problem is invisible to us, the fact is that fine dust or particulate matter (PM) ranging from 10µm (PM10) to as tiny as 2.5µm (PM2.5) can cause serious lung and heart health problems.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that two million people die every year from small particulate matter in the air. Other health problems are coming to light. For instance, a recent study showed a correlation between higher levels of particulate air pollution and higher numbers of babies born with low birth weights.

Cleaner indoor air is clearly a human right; but it also offers practical benefits. For example, a study by William Fisk from the Californian Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory concluded that better indoor air quality boosted worker productivity by 0.5 percent to 5 percent, leading to estimated savings of between $20 billion to $200 billion per year.

Material health is a key component of the Cradle to Cradle® philosophy, followed by Desso since 2008. Ensuring that the materials are as free as possible of potentially risky toxins is critical for human health and the environment. It ensures safe use during the life of the product and enables the materials to be recycled in a healthy way later.

The link between Cradle to Cradle®’s Material Health and Desso’s innovation drive for functional, added value products led to the search for carpets that would improve the indoor environment – contributing to the ‘Great Indoors’.

One such innovation, linked to the air quality issue, is the DESSO AirMaster® carpet, designed to capture particulate matter in its fibres. In fact, it has been proved to be eight times better than hard floors are keeping the fine dust out of air around us and four times better than regular carpets1.

1 Based on tests performed by GUI, with DESSO AirMaster® versus standard PVC hardfloor and versus standard structured loop pile carpet.

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