Friday 20 September 2019

Open fires 'worsen conditions' for people with asthma and respiratory difficulties

Open-fires can worsen conditions for people with asthma, according to reports
Open-fires can worsen conditions for people with asthma, according to reports

Sasha Brady

Open fires can trigger breathing difficulties and worsen conditions for people with asthma or respiratory difficulties according to the Irish Asthma Society.

The warning comes after it emerged that the most recent building regulations actively discourage homeowners from installing open fire-places.

The Department of Environment wants house-builders to install sealed stoves instead as they are a more efficient way of heating a home.

In an effort to understand more about how particles from solid fuel fires are exacerbating respiratory difficulties, The Asthma Society is starting baseline research into indoor air quality in Irish homes.

With 470,000 people affected, Ireland has the fourth-highest prevalence of asthma worldwide. One in five children has asthma while one in ten adults are sufferers.

Approximately one person a week dies as a result of asthma but 90 per cent of these deaths are preventable.

Advocacy manager, Kevin Kelly told the Irish Examiner: "Research internationally has shown that high levels of fine particles are emitted into the air from burning fuel in an open fire. They get into the lung and exacerbate asthma.

"We had one elderly woman from Sligo who had acute asthma. She was immobile. We asked her about how she lived her life and it turned out she sat by an open fire all day, totally unaware of its health impact.

Mr Kelly believes that fuel-burning stoves are a better option for asthma sufferers as the fine particles are released back up into the chimney and not the open room.

The Asthma Society will begin its research this summer using Nuwave air-quality sensors. They measure critical contaminant parameters and communicates the information in real time. Automatic alerts tell users when there is a problem that requires action.

Meanwhile, the trend towards airtight houses - as we become more energy efficient - could also worsen breathing difficulties, according to a leading expert in indoor air quality.

“Poor indoor air quality is connected with a range of undesirable health effects, such as allergic and asthma symptoms, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, airborne respiratory infections and cardiovascular disease,” said Professor Hazim Awbi when speaking to the Guardian.

"It is anticipated that indoor air quality will generally become poorer, resulting in an increase in the number of cases of health symptoms related to poorer indoor environment quality."

Lack of proper ventilation in both newly built homes and those that have been refurbished to reduce their consumption of gas or electricity is storing up future health problems, Awbi said.

Earlier this week, chair of the Royal Institute of Architects Sustainability Task Force, Darragh Lynch said fully airtight homes in Ireland will have a heat- ventilation recovery system.

“Mechanical heat ventilation recovery systems ensure proper ventilation in an airtight home and ensure the airtight home is not only comfortable but there are also added health benefits,” he said.

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